Let's Talk About Sex: Masterfully acted 'Kinsey'
Biopic of polarizing sex doctor from '50s, turns mirror on today's society
Not much has changed in American society since 1948, when biologist Alfred Kinsey published his ever-controversial "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male." We are still sexually repressed, refuse to discuss masturbation and find homosexual behavior unacceptable - and half the population is still clueless about the actual location of the clitoris. The striking similarities between Bill Condon's Kinsey biopic and contemporary America's social and moral landscape are a bit disturbing. They are especially so when you consider how much society has advanced and shifted in terms of civil rights, women's rights, technology, fashion and medicine. But, as "Kinsey" so subtly suggests, Americans are just as ignorantly fearful of human sexuality as we were more than 50 years ago.
"Kinsey," which is essentially a biography, tells the story of the man (played by Liam Neeson) by placing him in the spotlight during his famous interviews, which he conducted with thousands of people to compile their sex histories for his studies. The film details his life from his early childhood until shortly before his death, focusing primarily on the time Kinsey spent compiling the sex studies. Much of the film deals with Kinsey's relationships with his wife, Clara (Laura Linney), and his assistants - notably Clyde Martin, played by Peter Sarsgaard. It is truly the story of a man's life, but it touches on various issues as Kinsey's life unfolds.
In a country that ascribes moral values as the most important criteria for choosing a president, it is uncertain how the public will respond to this film. After all, Kinsey was both shunned and praised for his controversial studies, and many moralists condemned him for destroying America's moral climate. "Kinsey" argues that not only is homosexuality acceptable, but it is inherent. Everyone, Kinsey asserts, is somewhere on a scale of one to six in terms of "gayness," and most of us are about a three. Under that argument, there is a distinct possibility that your average suburban married guy with 2.5 kids finds his male best friend just as attractive as he find his own wife.
But today, in a country that punishes gay couples by legally denying them the right to marriage but gets off on the idea of two women going at it, Condon's liberal assertions in "Kinsey" may be attacked by about, oh, 51 percent of the population. One major issue Condon briefly takes on in the film is that of abstinence education. Kinsey was not only notable for his sex studies, but also for his post as a professor at Indiana University, where he taught a class about sex to married couples. His teaching methods are, of course, attacked in the film by the administration, which believes it is better to teach students to just not have sex at all. That sentiment so clearly reflects the view of the Bush administration, which has begun instituting this very type of sex education - an obviously stupid move, since more and more teenagers are electing to have sex, and handing them a condom is surely better than handing them a Bible.
There's no denying that "Kinsey" is a liberal film. With its full-frontal male nudity, gay love scene, frank discussion of sex and unblushing use of words that are normally considered taboo (can anyone say "cunt" three times fast?), this film is sure to cause a stir. But that does not seem to be its primary objective; rather, it seeks to express that a person's sexuality is just that - personal. The film emphasizes that our overwhelming notion of what constitutes a "normal" sex life is harmful; we should instead accept that what makes each person tick varies, and that sexual deviance is a construct, set in place by moralists (i.e. "The Church") to make us feel that what we desire is wrong. That's not to say "Kinsey" is telling you to go make sweet love to a goat. But it is saying that if you choose to engage in bestiality with farm animals, you deserve the right to not be judged for it by society.
"Kinsey" is skillfully directed and masterfully acted, but its strength and its brilliance lie in its ability to carefully poke fun at society's reservations about sex. The film is not just about issues. It is about a man - one who had a lasting impact on our culture. And whether you believe this impact was beneficial or destructive, the fact remains that his work profoundly affected the social climate of America, and clearly is still doing so.