Sexual Revolution: A Triumph of Grown-Up Cinema, and Adolescent Fare That Sucks
Kermode, Mark, New Statesman (1996)
Regular readers will already know that I consider Liam Neeson's eponymous performance in Kinsey to be one of the screen treats of the year, shamefully overlooked by Academy members because of their anxieties about the film's controversial theme. At a time when Hollywood film-makers from Martin Scorsese to Paul Verhoeven are bemoaning Tinseltown's unwillingness to address "adult" subjects, Neeson and writer/director Bill Condon have proven that grown-up cinema still has an important place in the mainstream movie market. Indeed, despite some concessions towards the simplifications of the biopic format, Kinsey remains admirably forthright in its investigation of a nerdy academic who started out cataloguing the life cycles of gall wasps and wound up teaching Americans to talk openly about sex.
Having endured the virginal embarrassment of his own disastrous wedding night, the tweedy college professor Alfred Kinsey ("Prok" to his friends) sets out to ensure that none of his students is similarly left in the dark by establishing an academic forum for "marital instruction". Overwhelmed by the popularity of his classes, Kinsey soon finds himself thrust into the limelight as the nation's premier "sexologist"--the documentor of a thousand hidden truths that lay bare the diversity of "normal" human sexuality. Using an interview technique that enables respondents to talk openly about their most private experiences (and which Condon skilfully weaves into the discourse of his own narrative), Kinsey becomes a media star for "proving" that most men have enjoyed much more than missionary-position marital intercourse. But when he argues that the same is true of women, Kinsey is accused of amorality and anti-Americanism, and faces having his funding revoked.
As the gangly, awkward Prok, Neeson brilliantly captures the professional empathy and personal detachment that apparently made Kinsey such a great scientist and such an infuriating husband. Released from the shackles of an oppressively straitlaced upbringing (John Lithgow is both hilarious and heartbreaking as Prok's guilt-stricken preacher father), Kinsey begins by exploring his own latent bisexuality and ends up methodically mutilating himself as his research drives him towards something approaching madness. But while Neeson's initially engaging character becomes an ever more obsessive and alienating presence, Laura Linney ensures that the film retains a familiar human heart. …