November 19, 2004


Directed by Bill Condon Starring Liam Neeson, Laura Linney and Peter Sarsgaard

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

In 1938 - long before Sue Johanson and Dr. Drew achieved celebrity by offering sex advice on national television - a zoologist shocked the bucolic Indiana University campus with unprecedented and unthinkable sex research. Dr. Alfred Kinsey's publications would later pave the way for the sexual revolution, legitimizing sex education, homosexuality and other taboos. Decades after having stormed up controversy across America, he and his books have faded into relative obscurity. Bill Condon's tremendous new biopic Kinsey is bringing the researcher back into public consciousness, unwaveringly recounting all of his achievements and failings.

Skillfully portrayed with nerdy enthusiasm by Liam Neeson, Kinsey is a gall wasp expert who has painstakingly gathered the world's largest collection of specimens on his research subject. His student Clara "Mac" McMillen (Laura Linney) tries to impress him with a unique theory about the gall wasps and ends up winning his heart. When by chance asked to provide marriage counselling, Kinsey comes to the realization that prevalent knowledge and attitudes about sexual matters are grossly misguided and only serve to induce unnecessary shame. He then shifts the focus of his research onto human subjects, meticulously collecting sexual histories with the aid of a few assistants.

Unlike the fraudulent A Beautiful Mind, the film doesn't sugarcoat facts to make them more palatable for mass consumption. It candidly depicts the disastrous outcomes of Kinsey's experimenting with gay sex and encouraging colleagues to swap wives. But Condon has also done a more serviceable job detailing the researcher's achievements than Ron Howard did with John Nash's. A heartbreaking testimonial from an interview subject (played by Lynn Redgrave) persuasively articulates how Kinsey's work has changed her life - as well as ours - for the better.

With religious watchdogs south of our border already raising red flags over it, Kinsey is clearly a socially and politically relevant film that viewers will either find inspirational or dangerous depending on their values and beliefs. But the researcher's work and this film are not merely an endorsement of sexual freedom. Their fundamental goal is to advocate diversity and tolerance. Believing that "everybody's sin is nobody's sin," Kinsey proved through his research that some things the society once forbade are indeed normal and ubiquitous. As legions of puritanical zealots are vigorously trying to undo nearly a century's worth of social progress, the film is an indispensable reminder of why progress is essential.

Reprinted from WestEnder. © Copyright 2004 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.