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Liam Neeson Is Gonna Blow Up the Kinsey Scale

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Alex von Tunzelmann, for guardian.co.uk on Thursday 8th July 2010 09.14 UTC

Director: Bill Condon
Entertainment grade: B+
History grade: A–

Alfred Kinsey was a professor of zoology who became interested in human sexuality. His Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University was the first of its kind. He is seen as the founder of sexology as an academic discipline.


Childhood

Young Kinsey’s childhood is dominated by an ultra-religious father (John Lithgow). Kinsey Snr preaches publicly against modern technology for its role in facilitating illicit sex. To his mind, the problems include cars, electricity and the telephone. “And let’s not forget the most scandalous invention of all … the zipper! Which provides every man and boy speedy access to moral oblivion!” Well, that’s the first time I’ve heard it called that. The portrait of Kinsey’s repressed childhood is accurate – and, as the film suggests, probably explains a lot.

Marriage

Kinsey (played as an adult by Liam Neeson) becomes a biologist, and devotes himself to the intensive study of the gall wasp. After a chaste courtship, he marries chemist Clara “Mac” McMillen (Laura Linney). The marriage is not initially consummated. The reason given in the film is accurate: his, er, moral oblivion was unusually large. Following surgery (on her, not him), the situation is resolved. Alongside his own sexual discovery, Kinsey is intrigued by the study of human sexuality. “But why didn’t I see it before?” he exclaims. “Human beings are just bigger, slightly more complicated gall wasps.”

Health

By the end of the 1930s, there were 500,000 new cases of syphilis and 700,000 of gonorrhea in the United States every year. The marriage and hygiene courses on offer at American universities were limited, and indeed the one at Indiana was described by the student newspaper as “the most useless course in the university”. Kinsey begins his own course, with a much franker and less moralistic content than the usual. “Why offer a marriage course?” he asks. “Because society has interfered with what should be a normal biological development, causing a scandalous delay of sexual activity, which leads to sexual difficulty and early marriage.” Again, this is accurate; as is the fact that Kinsey used his students as research subjects, asking them to complete questionnaires about their sexual histories.

Sexuality

Soon, Kinsey grows close to one of those students, Clyde Martin (Peter Sarsgaard). Together, they go to a gay bar in Chicago, where Kinsey is trying to collect more sex histories. They’re sharing a hotel room. Martin gets conspicuously naked, then asks Kinsey where he would fall on his own rating scale for sexual orientation (zero being totally straight, six being totally gay). “Probably three,” ventures Kinsey nervously. “Ever done anything about it?” asks Martin. Kinsey stares shyly at the floor, and Martin adds: “Would you like to?” In real life, Kinsey had already begun cottaging by the time he met Martin in 1939. By romanticising Kinsey as the passive object of a seduction, rather than showing him as a lurker in a public lavatory, the movie makes him more straightforwardly sympathetic.

Scandal

Very little in this film is fabricated, but a few more kinks get almost imperceptibly ironed out. For instance, the film openly portrays the sexually liberated attitude of all Kinsey’s researchers – but it doesn’t emphasise Kinsey’s role in persuading all the men who work for him to try gay sex, often with him. Simultaneously, he insisted that they be “happily married”, to avoid scandal. In order to present Kinsey as a hero, everyone who questions his project is portrayed as anti-sex and conservative. In many cases, they were. But as his research strays further into questionable territory – making secret films of his subjects having sex; joining in; gathering unusual data on children’s sexual responses from one paedophile and presenting them as the product of a wider study – the film is obliged to skim over some of Kinsey’s excesses in order to keep him as its hero.

Verdict

An exceptionally well-researched biopic, with great performances – but this is a very forgiving take on Alfred Kinsey.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

By:           Arthur Dunlop
On:           Jul 8, 2010
Tagged: , , ,
  • 10 Comments
    • UMB
      UMB

      I’m confused… why is this Junior High level book report here? And why is it six years late?

      Jul 8, 2010 at 11:25 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Mike in Asheville, nee "in Brooklyn"
      Mike in Asheville, nee "in Brooklyn"

      Ummmm, this movie came out 6 years ago! Its been recycled several times on HBO/SHO and available for rental. As a movie it is entertaining and informative; but, what’s new or what’s newsworthy about it today?

      *************

      Perhaps the journalist and/or Queerty should have looked at how the Kinsey Report initiated the beginning of the modern gay/lesbian rights movement. Perhaps they should have looked how the Kinsey Report was the first scientific analysis of homosexuality and how the report sparked a critical peer and professional analysis of the classification of homosexuality as a disorder. With Kinsey, it still took 25 years, against the very loud religious and morality alarmist forces, for the American Psychological Association to repudiate the “disorder” classification. Without Kinsey, how much longer would homosexuality be classified as a disorder; how much longer state legislatures and courts allowed the continued discrimination against us because we are “disordered” our conduct “illegal” that we are “criminals” …

      Alfred Kinsey is singlehandedly the force that has allowed gays and lesbians to share our natural heritage that we too, are endowed by our Creator, certain inalienable rights … of life, liberty and THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS.

      Too bad thats all lost in a lacking review of this great hero and a lackluster posting on this gay site.

      Jul 8, 2010 at 12:10 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • slobone
      slobone

      Queerty apparently has some kind of deal with the Guardian…

      Jul 8, 2010 at 3:04 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • RomanHans
      RomanHans

      Hey, I can jot down my feelings about “Kangaroo Jack” if you guys are interested.

      Jul 8, 2010 at 3:54 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • justin
      justin

      Will you be reviewing Brokeback Mountain next? wtf???

      Jul 9, 2010 at 12:19 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • WTF?
      WTF?

      Might I be so bold as to point out a couple of things?

      First, I can’t explain why the Guardian would run this years later. However, I can point out Queerty’s own title, which uses “gonna” – not to describe Kinsey, but rather Neeson.

      Secondly, you may have read a lot about Neeson’s sexuality in various (and much loathed) blind items on this site. His name has often been posited as the “actor” in question when it comes various gay rumors.

      It seems likely that either Queerty’s is pointing out the absurdity of a review 6 years too late OR they are throwing a teasing hint about something Neeson is rumored to do in the near future.

      Jul 9, 2010 at 10:30 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • WTF?
      WTF?

      Might I be so bold as to point out a couple of things?

      First, I can’t explain why the Guardian would run this year’s later. However, I can point out Queerty’s own title, which uses “gonna” – not to describe Kinsey, but rather Neeson.

      Secondly, you may have read a lot about Neeson’s sexuality in various (and much loathed) blind items on this site. His name has often been posited as the “actor” in question when it comes various gay rumors.

      It seems likely that either Queerty’s is pointing out the absurdity of a review 6 years too late OR they are throwing a teasing hint about something Neeson is rumored to do in the near future.

      Jul 9, 2010 at 10:31 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Alexa
      Alexa

      Apparently none of you actually clicked on the link to the Guardian. It’s part of an ongoing series, Reel History:

      “The historian Alex von Tunzelmann watches classics of big screen history and prises fact from fiction”

      Jul 9, 2010 at 10:37 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • scott ny'er
      scott ny'er

      @Alexa: Thanks, Alexa. I think, as I do some of the times, posters here forget or just don’t click on the story link.

      Jul 9, 2010 at 10:48 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Mike in Asheville, nee "in Brooklyn"
      Mike in Asheville, nee "in Brooklyn"

      @No. 8 Alexa

      I did not initially click on the story link; it certainly appeared that this was one of many times that Queerty had copied/pasted a story with movie photo and point headers.

      Okay, so the article posted on Queerrty should have clarified that the article was making an analysis of the historical accuracy. Fine.

      But I’m still stumped. The review itself is, to say the least, thin. As posted another reader, the review is quite junior highish. And, Queerty still fails for not bringing in any element about how Kinsey and the Kinsey Report effected both the movement for scientific and medical review of homosexuality and the movement for gay/lesbian civil rights.

      Jul 9, 2010 at 11:15 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·

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