Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA/Germany, 2004. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Qwerty Films, N1 European Film Produktions GmbH & Co. KG, Pretty Pictures. Screenplay by Bill Condon. Cinematography by Frederick Elmes. Produced by Gail Mutrux. Music by Carter Burwell. Production Design by Richard Sherman. Costume Design by Bruce Finlayson. Film Editing by Virginia Katz. Academy Awards 2004. Golden Globe Awards 2004. Toronto International Film Festival 2004.
This film reminds me of the line that Ben Kingsley delivers in Merchant Ivory’s adaptation of E.M. Forster’s Maurice: “England has always been disinclined to accept human nature.” Substitute England for the current empire of the good ole’ US Of Bush-A, and you’ve got this film’s target in a nutshell. When Dr. Alfred Kinsey published his 1948 book Sexual Behaviour Of The Human Male, it tore America into shreds with its claims that just about everyone in the country was having a lot more sex, in a lot more ways, than anyone was admitting to. Of course, its being so shocking and controversial was what made it the biggest seller in bookstores for months, and it has since changed the face of scientific studies of sexuality. This extremely well-acted and expertly directed film by Bill Condon (Gods And Monsters) traces the career of Kinsey (Liam Neeson) from his days studying gall wasps, where he meets the woman who will eventually become his wife (Laura Linney), and with whom the awkward first steps of exploring each other’s sexuality will lead to his awareness of his generation’s lack of knowledge on the subject. Gathering funding from various sources and putting together a team of researchers (Chris O’Donnell, Timothy Hutton), plus employing the help of his wife and one of his ace students (Peter Sarsgaard, who is brilliant), Kinsey goes around the country taking sexual experience histories from people of all ages, races and social backgrounds in an effort to gather further data than has ever been assembled before (attitudes in his day include people thinking that performing oral sex on a woman would make it difficult for her to get pregnant later on). Naturally, the publication of his findings about men meets with dire resistance (and curiosity) from the country, but when he decides to plunge back into research to publish a companion book on the subject of women’s experiences, Kinsey finds his funding blocked. Meanwhile, his own personal exploration of sexuality, with his wife and with Sarsgaard (who it must be said has the sexiest nude scene of the year), takes him beyond scientific exploration and he eventually realizes that people can only be treated as lab rats for so long before the emotional consequences become apparent. Condon keeps the pace going steadily and fills the film with fascinating information, but there are a few things missing that would have been helpful had they been further developed: why is there so little discussion of the political ramifications of his studies? Surely a key reason why Kinsey’s research met with such disapproval was the fact that telling marginalized groups like straight and gay women and gay men that they weren’t alone and that their behaviour wasn’t demonic was giving power to groups that had long been oppressed. There’s a context missing here that would have made the film a lot more important instead of just exceptionally entertaining. Still, it’s a solid viewing experience, with Neeson giving his most appealing performance ever (for once he’s not lecturing at everyone in the audience), Linney doing her usual job of making something extraordinary out of everything she’s given and Sarsgaard stealing the very show from both of them every chance he gets. The screenplay will delight you with its frank discussions of sexuality; the more easily intimidated will giggle, everyone else will marvel at how backwards human beings are on the subject of sex and continue to be (the fact that the film has met with controversy and even protest shows that many are still not ready to accept the fact that humans are possessed of a human nature).