In the movie “Kinsey”, when someone suggests a movie from Dr. Alfred Kinsey’s book, he responds, jokingly wryly, “I can’t think of anything more boring.” He’s almost right. Kinsey was an academic, a pedant, and perhaps that is why “Kinsey” is so drab and almost sterile in its approach to such an explosive subject.
Explosive? In the era of Paris Hilton / Desperate Housewives / “red state / blue state”? Isn’t our DAILY speech already saturated with sex?
Yes and no.
There are still “no go there” areas, the Michael Jackson case proves it. The debate on gay marriage. Our rage for Monica Lewinsky. On the other hand, we’ve become more permissive: “Closer,” an exploration of infidelity, beats “Kinsey” at the Academy Awards, with the exception of a Best Supporting Actress nod to Laura Linney. The academic tone may have had something to do with it.
When I finally saw “Kinsey,” it was preceded by a promo for “Inside Deep Throat,” which was not referring to Pat Buchanan (who denied at a McLaughlin Group live appearance I attended in Palm Springs, California, that he is the “Deep Throat” of the Watergate scandal), but to the adult film starring Linda Lovelace, against which Nixon campaigned, only for “Deep Throat” (the source) to become his undoing.
Alfred Kinsey would find this prelude to his biopic appropriate. Let’s hope you like Liam Neeson, who manages to passionately rise above the sterile and shrunken Hollywood approach (as in psychotherapist) to a subject that still, frankly, makes us uncomfortable. Witness the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” furor. The amoral industry that spends billions trying to arouse us cannot overcome the conventions it thinks it mocks. Which is perhaps better. As the superb Laura Linney, playing Clara “Mac” Macmillan explains to her husband Al after he informs her of a homosexual affair with one of his investigators (Peter Sarsgaard), “Did you ever think those restrictions are there to keep people from getting hurt? “(Mac recovers when the same assistant asks him to have a little fun with her).
Perhaps the point of the movie is that sometimes we go too far both in enforcing those restrictions and relaxing them. Kinsey’s father, played as skillfully as usual by John Lithgow, looks down on his wife, daughter and son, but is shown to have been the victim of torture by his parents regarding sex. Interestingly, the father-son friction spans four generations of the Kinsey family when Kinsey begins teasing his own son. “Haven’t you learned anything? Nothing?” Mac exclaims.
Then there is the gay man Kinsey interviews. While childhood is pretty short these days, the idea of the young man’s father and brother marking him for same-sex exploration before puberty seems over the top. Kinsey’s cross-country interviews reveal that parents beat and reject their own children for sexual behavior.
That said, “Kinsey” doesn’t seem to be advocating total permissiveness. Even Dr. “Don’t Judge” Kinsey and one of his assistants live to maintain objectivity when interviewing Kenneth Braun, a subject they have courted for a decade due to their meticulous cataloging of their sexual history. Braun was apparently an important source of data for Kinsey.
Although the scene is only eight minutes long, it is easily one of the most powerful in the entire film, thanks to the cast of talented actor William Sadler as Braun. Sadler, who has a history of playing villains (“Die Hard 2”), convicts (“The Shawshank Redemption”) and shady characters (“Rush”), and even outspoken sex talkers (“When was the last time you had an orgasm? “, he asks his daughter in the short-lived series” Wonderfalls “), skillfully and unswervingly choreographing his way through Braun’s litany of perversions (sex with children, animals, and seventeen members of his family) with pure honesty. In an extremely bold move even for today’s audiences, the script makes Braun prove that he can have a boner in ten seconds and achieve onanistic self-satisfaction. While Kinsey’s assistant decides that Braun is too disgusting, Kinsey maintains his “professional distance” until Braun challenges Kinsey’s own orthodoxy by insisting that Kinsey’s doctrine is “if it feels good, do it.” Since Kinsey is never clear on his own doctrine, it’s no wonder he reacts badly to Braun. Braun mocks him as “square.”
But despite all this, Kinsey’s story, which begins with one of Kinsey’s assistants (Chris O’Donnell, shedding his clean boy image) interviews him and provides a framed narrative for the film, is one of love: love for your theme, love. for Mac, and possibly learning to love yourself. “When it comes to love, we are all in the dark,” he explains. This lesson has been taught by the magnificent Lynn Redgrave, for whom her book has made a difference. “Thank you, Dr. Kinsey,” he says. “You saved my life.”
Perhaps “Kinsey” may seem a little “business as usual” in our jaded culture. But the movie reminds us of our common humanity, and if we have to talk about sex and wasps to realize that, it’s well worth the price of admission.