Kinsey

Stephen Jay Gould wrote an essay about Alfred Kinsey’s early research on gall wasps. Gould describes the experience of reading one of Kinsey’s papers on the insect where some smart alec had written in the margins, “Very nice, Alfred, but why don’t you try writing about something interesting.”

I don’t suppose that there’s anthing more interesting to us than sex, or more threatening. It’s a subject that we talk about incessantly, but we don’t want to be challenged by it. We don’t want hear about other ways of doing it. Alfred Kinsey did and and he took the same approach to sex that he did to his wasps, a number crunching strategy, gathering as much data as he could from as many subjects as possible. This made the statistical models more reliable.

Of course, you can study wasps in this way for a whole career and nobody will raise an eyebrow. But if you ask a large population of people highly personal questions about thier sex lives and publish the results, you’re going to upset a few folks. Kinsey and his research are still controversial today. Witness the protests and condemnations that accompanied Bill Condon’s bio-pic.

Alfred Kinsey was a scientist through and through. As played by Liam Neeson, he’s a brilliant researcher, trained to be observant and objective. He imagines that he can turn these qualities to the subject of sex with no problems, as if he can somehow divorce sex from all its emotional baggage. He can’t, of course, especially when he feels the need to start some personal experiments.

According to the movie, Kinsey starts his sex study out of a belief that the current state of sex education was laughably inadequate and downright dangerous. He saw couples suffering needlessly because they were cut off from the data they needed to solve their problems. It must also be mentioned that his father was a strict minister with strong views on this sort of thing. So Kinsey starts with the view that getting to the truth about human sexual behavior would help those who are thinking that what they are driven to do is unnatural. He has initial success, which can only be described as spectacular, resulting in a bestselling book and his image appearing in national magazines. This celebrity tempts him into turning his desire to help into a crusade to change society overnight. And, of course, at that point all objectivity is lost and he becomes more vulnerable to the charges of his enemies. Eventually, he loses his funding and the support of his employer, Indiana University.

While Condon sympathizes with the crusade, he doesn’t shy away from showing Kinsey’s faults. We see him bullying his son in the same way that he himself was bullied by his father. Certain statistical innacuracies in his first book are mentioned. Still, this is a positive portrayal of a groundbreaking innovator, who saw an area where almost no research had been done and tried to fill the void.

Liam Neeson turns in a stunning performance as Alfred Kinsey. From the driving obsession to his inability to become immune to his father’s scorn, Neeson is perfect. Likewise Luara Linney is great as his wife Clara McMillan, who put up with a lot.

Bill Condon has made a moving film about a man struggling against his time, trying to find the truth about a subject that so many want to be obscure and myterious. It is an inspirational message in these times.

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