Bill Condon is no longer an unknown name in Hollywood. While few saw his films Strange Behavior or Sister, Sister and a few more saw Gods and Monsters, most moviegoers know Condon wrote the screenplay for Chicago, a film that won six Academy Awards and seven more nominations, including one for Condon for Best Adapted Screenplay. As writer and director of his new film, Kinsey, Condon steps even deeper into attention-grabbing territory.
Kinsey is based on the life of Alfred C. Kinsey (Liam Neeson), a science researcher who begins an obsessive study of the gall wasp at Harvard University before transitioning to teaching a course on marriage at the University of Indiana in the 1930s. The course, more revealing in its exploration of sex than the school imagined, soon becomes one of the most popular classes on campus.
From his research for the class, Kinsey discovers there are minimal studies about sexual behavior. Kinsey and his wife Clara (Laura Linney) open new doors about the sexual revolution when Kinsey begins interviews with willing participants about their sexual history. The impact across the nation of his book Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, published in 1948, is compared to that of the atom bomb.
“Kinsey changed the way America thinks about sex…yet as a man he has mostly been forgotten. An emphasis on private struggles and crisis can diminish what caused a figure to merit public attention in the first place,” said Condon, who knew Kinsey would make a fascinating biographical story when his own research of Kinsey revealed that his drive to explore sex scientifically also had a personal connection.
Which was exactly what happened to Kinsey. After receiving funding from the Rockefeller foundation for additional studies based on his interviews, Kinsey recruits the research team of Clyde (Peter Sarsgaard -- who is brave enough to do a full frontal nude scene in the film), Wardell (Chris O’Donnell) and Paul (Timothy Hutton) to help with the interviews. This bold research soon moves to the bedroom as Kinsey encourages all of his team members and their wives to be “swingers” in order to further his studies on sexuality.
Kinsey’s second book, Sexual Behavior in Human Female, released in 1953, gets as much attention as his first, but all negative. By this time Kinsey’s work has moved to the forefront in media coverage in a country not yet ready to embrace sex on the covers of its magazines and newspapers. He loses the funding for his studies; preachers attack him and his work; and McCarthy era radicals suggest Kinsey is under communist influence.
Condon does a proficient job in presenting a kaleidoscope view of Kinsey’s multi-layered life and in explaining how his father’s (John Lithgow) early abuse set the course for the erratic changes throughout his son’s life, including his own sexual experimentations with both homosexuals and heterosexuals.
In searching for the right actor to portray Kinsey, Condon had Neeson at the top of his list. As Oscar in Shindler’s List or Priest Vallon in Gangs of New York, Neeson has shown his ability to play complicated characters. “This role tweaked every artistic muscle I have in my soul and in my body,” said Neeson. “You really had to dig deep into one’s on psyche to fully flesh out the character.”
Neeson put in extensive hours and traveled many miles in his research for the role, and his dedication and terrific performance will most likely earn him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Laura Linney and the supporting cast are equally impressive.
Kinsey presents a fascinating look at a man few people today know about, but the movie is not for everyone. It contains nudity, graphic images of anatomy and extensive content of a sexual nature. Still, minus a somewhat conciliatory ending, it’s an exceptional film in terms of performances, script and direction.
(Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures and rated "R" for pervasive sexual content, including graphic images and descriptions.)