Kinsey: Special Edition
November 13, 2005
Starring: Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Chris O’Donnell, Peter Sarsgaard, Timothy Hutton, John Lithgow, Tim Curry, Oliver Platt, Dylan Baker, William Sadler, Veronica Cartwright, Lynn Redgrave, ,
From the late ‘30s to the mid ‘50s, Dr. Alfred Kinsey changed the way people thought and talked about sex. He dared to speak frankly and openly about sex at an extremely repressive time. Kinsey was a pioneer and an innovator, someone who was a free thinker. The timing for a movie about this man and one that encourages a healthy discourse about sex is perfect. The United States has such a prudish, puritanical attitude towards sex, as evident from the whole Janet Jackson-Super Bowl fiasco. It is all around us: in music videos, beer ads and popular culture men’s magazines like Maxim. And still, TV and film censors regulate the depiction of sexuality while having no problem showing all kinds of horrific scenes of violence. It’s a hypocritical attitude that Bill Condon’s biopic, Kinsey (2004), exposes and criticizes.
We are introduced to Kinsey (Neeson) and his past through a series of interview soundbites by three of his assistants (O’Donnell, Sarsgaard and Hutton). These flashbacks start at his childhood and continue on up to the meeting of his future wife Clara (Linney) while he taught Zoology at Indiana University. Appalled at the primitive sex classes that were being taught, Kinsey started a course about marriage where he discussed sex openly and frankly. This caused huge shockwaves at the time. One has to remember that in the 1930s, pre-marital sex and masturbation was equated with juvenile delinquency and the worst kinds of deviancy. It was this kind of dark ages thinking that unrealistically promoted abstinence to young people who had no intention of doing so.
After realizing that he didn’t have all the answers to some of his students more challenging questions about sex, Kinsey proceeded to record his classes’ sexual histories in order to figure out what people commonly (and uncommonly) did sexually: their experiences, their practices and so on. Once he enlisted one of his students, Clyde Martin (Sarsgaard) to assist him with his studies, he developed a questionnaire to record people’s sexual histories. However, Clyde ends up seducing Kinsey (providing him with his first homosexual encounter) and then doing the same with his wife.
Liam Neeson brings a lot of charisma, natural intelligence and passion to the role. Like, Ian McKellen’s take on James Whale in Condon’s Gods and Monsters (1998), Neeson’s Kinsey is a portrayed as a sympathetic “deviant” and a marginalized genius. Both characters mentor young proteges, Brendan Fraser’s hunky gardener in Gods and Monsters and Peter Sarsgaard’s liberated assistant in Kinsey. All of the actors are fearless as they talk frankly about sex through their characters. They are more than up to the challenge of this tricky material.
Kinsey is a thought-provoking movie that treats the subject of sex with respect and refuses to exploit or view it salaciously. Most importantly, Condon’s movie treats sex as a normal, healthy act that should be talked about and not shunned or ignored. It champions sexual diversity because everyone is different with their own unique desires and turn-ons. Unfortunately, Kinsey was largely ignored by most major awards in favour of more sentimental biopics (Ray) or ones that evoked traditional Hollywood nostalgia (The Aviator). Perhaps Condon’s film will enjoy a new life on home video.
The first disc features an audio commentary by Bill Condon as he takes us through the evolution of the project, from inspiration up until its release with the occasional interruption for a scene-specific comment. As anyone who has listened to his commentary for Gods and Monsters knows, he is an eloquent speaker and talks knowledgeably about his own creative process. Condon discusses the challenge of shopping this controversial subject matter around to studios, trying to get it financed and the casting process, which he felt Neeson was crucial because it allowed the audience to relate to this complex character.
The second disc starts off with an extensive, feature-length documentary, “The Kinsey Report: Sex on Film.” The real Kinsey is discussed, complete with archival photos and soundbites from his biographers. The film’s producer even addresses the conservative backlash to the movie, and in particular, one critic who charged that Kinsey was a pedophile. There is some overlap from Condon’s commentary but this is still an excellent, in-depth look at the man and the movie made about him.
There are 18 deleted scenes with optional commentary by Condon. These scenes were often cut to tighten up the structure of the movie. O’Donnell suffered the most in the editing room, much to Condon’s dismay. The filmmaker felt that he delivered a strong performance.
Also included are a teaser and theatrical trailers.
There is also a three minute “Gag Reel” that features a funny collection of blown lines and ad-libs.
“Sex Ed. at the Kinsey Institute” is a brief tour of the Institute’s gallery of Kinsey memorabilia (his old microscope for example), sexual devices from all over the world and samples from their library.
Finally, there is an “Interactive Sex Questionnaire” that allows you to answer a series of questions developed by the Kinsey Institute about your own sexuality and practices.