Movie Review: Kinsey
We watched Kinsey Monday night, a film biography of the famous sex researcher Alfred Kinsey. I enjoyed the movie very much (see notes below the fold), but was far more interested in how the reviews mostly came out along lines of how the reviewers themselves felt about the controversial scientist.
Kinsey is a hero among sexual libertines and public enemy number one among the ‘Christian Right’. Apparently this makes objective movie reviewing rather tricky…
DoctorG.com: “I found the movie Kinsey to be both true to his work and to the essence of this dedicated man. Besides being highly entertaining, it was very relevant… a wonderful actor… a brilliant stroke of genius for director/writer Bill Condon… exceptionally inspired… The chemistry between Linney as Clara Kinsey and Neeson as Alfred Kinsey is magical and, through Clara’s eyes, we see his extraordinary humanity as well as his dogged persistence…”
Gee, I think they liked it. How about the movie-review arm of Focus On The Family, James Dobson’s organization?:
PluggedInOnline.com: “The problems with this movie, including its pornographic content, are too vast to itemize. To say that it is rank propaganda for the sexual revolution and the homosexual agenda would be beyond stating the obvious… Insidious… That anyone would want to make a film lionizing the man simply boggles… Simply judging the craft of filmmaking, however, Kinsey is fairly pedestrian…”
Huh… seems it wasn’t to their liking. Particularly hilarious is the complaint that the movie is “saturated with sex”. Really? A film about Alfred Kinsey? Who knew?
But as one reviewer noted, many people do not know who Alfred Kinsey was, or the cultural context in which he did his research. I read the following passage from the Focus review to my son:
The movie is not two minutes old when it begins mocking Christianity. It shows a stern preacher denouncing modernity, and it implicitly equates disapproval of sexual deviancy with disapproval of all that makes up the “modern” world (e.g., [zippers,] electricity and automobiles).
My son responded; “Well they were mocking Christianity! The preacher was connecting zippers with sex!” I told him that in that time, there were many sermons preached on the evils of modernity, including the too-convenient access that zippers afford to one’s genitals. I have read transcripts of late-1800’s sermons that were very similar to the one in the movie. They weren’t mocking Christianity: they were portraying a man, Kinsey’s father, and describing the context of Kinsey’s childhood.
Besides, Puritan prudishness isn’t Christianity; it is a cultural sub-context in which a number of historical Christian revivals took place. My son knew who Kinsey was, and was familiar with his work, but didn’t know the back-story.
It is a fact that the only information about sex available to most people until just sixty years ago was misinformation, woven from religious prejudice, rumor, and legend. The modern-day Puritans continue to fight tooth-and-nail to keep every scrap of factual information about sex from us all.
In all I read about 10 reviews, of which I have linked three below. The evaluation of the the film’s cinematic virtues ran coaxially with the reviewers’ interests. Is objectivity impossible?
THE PLOT: Kinsey, raised by a puritanical minister (John Lithgow), escaped his family to put himself through Harvard (an impressive accomplishment in itself). As an entomologist he studied gall wasps at Indiana University, but saw an opening in the dearth of scientific knowledge about one subject that is of intense interest to almost every living human. Kinsey felt that any moral approach to human sexuality should begin by finding out what human sexuality is. With this simple insight, he began to collect information on human sexual behavior.
Naturally this was controversial and Kinsey, himself hardly a saint, met many obstacles along the path to publication of his two most famous books. Working constantly to exhaustion, he lived only a few years after the period covered by the movie. Any Star Wars-related doubts one might have about Liam Neeson’s acting ability will be put firmly aside by this movie, whose entire cast did an astounding job telling a difficult story.
I guess biblical literalists won’t like a movie about a truly complex character. PluggedIn called portrayal of Kinsey’s faults a “clever propaganda technique” in what I believe was simply the producer’s failure to come to the same conclusion about Kinsey’s character as the reviewer. My advice to them: if you like things simple, keep your eyes and ears closed.
Was Kinsey an ‘emotionally well man’? Probably not. The Puritan focus on sexual repression at all costs seems no less a ‘perversion’ than any fetish. The chances that Kinsey would come out of that background perfectly balanced seem very small indeed. That he became the obsessed vanguard of scientific sex studies, and was embraced by some thoroughly dispicable people (and vilified by some other, thoroughly dispicable people) hardly seems like a recipe for good emotional health.
Kinsey’s science wasn’t very good; there were serious flaws in his subject selection method, his statistics, and some of his laboratory methods. Some of his interactions would not be considered ethical by today’s standards. But those standards were developed from experience largely pioneered by Kinsey himself. It is true that Kinsey was not always as objective as he pretended to be, but it would be very odd if anyone could juggle a difficult family background, while re-framing sexual ethics and interacting with the full range of human wierdity without being personally affected.
To this day we don’t really know how many people are gay, but we are enriched by Kinsey’s discovery that many people are not completely one way or the other. Practically every aspect of human sexuality remains in the darkness of shame, a shadow cast by the religious right which makes sex the bait in a trap in which countless millions languish needlessly. Through the lenses of his background and his research, Kinsey saw first-hand the suffering and pain of sexuality twisted by shame. It is a story that history is not finished telling.