Directed by Bill Condon

Distributor: Fox Searchlight

Release Date: November 12, 2004


Can masturbation cause blindness? Does being a homosexual mean you are insane? Is it normal for your boyfriend to touch your anus? Does cunnilingus cause birth defects? These are the questions the students struggle with as they line up at the door of Professor Alfred Kinsey's office. What is perhaps most shocking about the film, Kinsey is not the discoveries he makes (most woman orgasm by stimulating the clitoris not the vagina) but the level of ignorance about sex in the 50s. Viewing the 50s from the present, it never occurs to us that the Cleavers might have assumed, as did the recently married woman interviewed in Kinsey, that babies come from a woman's navel, as newly weds.


The film Kinsey attempts to mirror in structure and theme what the man Kinsey sought to do in his life and work. Kinsey opens with Kinsey getting what he is known for giving: an interview for "a sexual history". His own interview is training for the interviewers that would carry this frank exploration throughout the country. "Look at the person in the eyes and smile, no matter what is said.'' Kinsey grew up in Hoboken, New Jersey. His father was a puritanical tyrant whose strict religious values were downright absurd. Father Kinsey delivers a sermon when his son is about ten on the evils of the just-invented novelty, the zipper. The zipper "gives men easy passageway to moral oblivion." Kinsey, raised in this oppressive environment, struggles as a teen with what we may now consider ''normal'' hormones and his budding sexuality. We see him crying after he masturbates. As a young man, Kinsey finds solace in nature, and becomes entranced with the wonderment of the gall wasp, which he would study for twenty years, collecting over a million. What he found so striking about the gall wasp was how vastly different one is from another. The new gall wasp often looks completely different from the parents.  In a lecture he states to his class, "There is only variation." He would later use the same scientific approach to the study of human sexuality. As he says to his wife, "Human beings are nothing but slightly more complicated gall wasps." He thus turns his magnifying glass from the lifeless wings of the gall wasp to the controversial subject of sex while he is at Indiana University.


The subject of sex is on his mind as he and his wife, both virgins, went through a traumatic sexual dysfunction in the first days of their marriage.  This, luckily, was quickly remedied by a doctor. His students, who affectionately called him Brok, often come to him soliciting sex advice, which he gives in a frank way leaving them both shocked and intrigued. He decides to take over the outdated "Hygiene course" that is offereda course, which apart from showing films depicting victims of syphilis, and preaching abstinence does little to shed light on the subject.  Kinsey offers a more direct and blunt approach in his "marriage course," offered only to married senior students. He shows slides of penises and vaginas, which even today sitting a theatre make you feel a bit embarrassed. During the course, he sees a gap of scientific knowledge in the field of human sexuality which propels the most extensive study of the subject to date.


The humor in this film comes from the juxtaposition of the obscene blatant language Kinsey and his wife use with their 1950s gosh-darn attitude. Kinsey, played by Liam Nelson, is seldom seen without a friendly wide grin on his face as he says words like: vagina, penis, and orgasm. His wife, Mack (Laura Linney), offers a slice of rhubarb pie to Kinsey's assistant and smiles when he propositions her. She looks at Kinsey and smiles with a matter-fact-ness that seems more like the answer to "would you like another slice of pie" then the offering of sleeping with another man. The aging of the actors was crudely accomplished, the changing of Laura Linney's hair from black to grey was about as sophisticated as it got. But despite this minor flaw, there is little to be criticized in this film that covers the substantial work of a complex man.


The film is part eighth grade sex lesson and part love song to science. At first Kinsey's work evoked immense interest and popularity that eluded him during his first twenty years of a scientist analyzing the wasp. But as he began work on his volume on female sexuality, the climate had changed. Bullied by harsh critics in the McCarthy Era, the Rockefeller foundation retracts its grant, leaving Kinsey adrift. Watching this film in today's climate of conservatism, you are struck with how little things have changed despite how much more we know. The time portrayed in "Kinsey" was one of sexual unawareness. Today, after the sexual revolution and Kinsey, we stand better educated yet still chained by the same social conventions. In the film, Kinsey comforts a homosexual. "Homosexuality is out of fashion these days but that doesn't mean it always will be." He could have said those very words today.


At the end of this film we find Kinsey and his wife in the woods peering up at the trees in childish wonderment. To the Left, Kinsey is a hero, a warrior of truth who fought to understand basic human sexual behavior. To the Right, he is a promoter of abortion, pornography, and sexual permissiveness. To Kinsey, during the film, he is a mere scientist. Having seen the impact of his work on society, it is unquestionable that Kinsey was more, much more, than a mere scientist documenting the facets of human sexuality. Kinsey evokes the conundrum that was and is sex in those days of HUAC as well as now. It's a movie that is important, sexy and fun. Kinsey is a rare film in every sense of the word.