Monday, September 22, 2008

Monday Movie Review: Kinsey (another re-run)

I have a Netflix I'm pretty excited about, but I had to watch the Emmys for my other blog, and I had a lot of personal stuff to deal with, so I never watched a movie. Here's another rerun. Sorry about that.

Kinsey (2004) 8/10
Biologist Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson) decides to focus his research efforts on human sexuality.

Kinsey is an interesting and complex movie. On the one hand, it's a biopic, making an effort at telling the truth about work that was a breakthrough, and paved the way for an entire field of research. There was no such thing as sex research when Kinsey started, which is why he started, appalled that even the most basic questions about what constituted normal or usual sexuality could not be answered.

In another way, it's a character study, taking quirky and difficult personalities and looking at them dispassionately. Kinsey is abrasive, disconnected from human feelings, self-important, and pedantic. His wife, Clara (Mac) McMillen (Laura Linney, in a radiant performance), can only be described as an odd duck. By comparison to Kinsey, she is warmth itself, but she, too, is awkward and disconnected, and could not possibly fit in with most people.

The Kinseys had what we'd describe now as a polyamorous relationship, at least at times. It seems most reviewers look at this movie and describe Mac as patient and long-suffering. Not unlike the way that most people describe women in polyamorous relationships, which they assume benefit men and impose upon women. But it seems pretty clear that both of the Kinseys are negotiating difficult emotional and sexual terrain, making mistakes, hurting themselves and each other, and finding some sort of way through. The interpersonal experimentation was probably inevitable in an environment where people were suddenly talking about sex when no one else did. Ultimately, they were also photographing and filming sex, and unsurprisingly, they could not remain dispassionate on the subject of arousal.

The third view of this movie is as a polemic about sexual secrecy, and here I find it most compelling. Kinsey reminds us of a world in which teenage boys were told they would die from masturbation, and were tortured and humiliated to prevent it. Where a woman could believe that "babies came out of navels" until her wedding night, and her husband could believe that oral sex caused infertility and must be avoided at all costs. For all of the flaws in Alfred Kinsey's methods and sampling, he was a warrior against ignorance. He understood that sexuality was a basic human need and expression, and that to be confused and lost and afraid in regards to it was wrong. In our current era of abstinence-only "education" and purposeful misinformation about birth control, it is worth remembering the kind of world that the far right is trying to revert to.

(This cross-post is an 8 on the Kinsey scale.)