Sex Ed hits the big screen

Nov. 19, 2004, midnight | By Erica Hartmann | 19 years, 3 months ago

Kinsey dramatizes historical sex research

People honestly used to think that if they masturbated, they would go blind. Really. And the adolescents who engaged in the activity were punished severely. This is the kind of ignorant prejudice that Dr. Alfred Kinsey faced.

The battle between science and social and religious taboos has been raging for centuries. From Socrates in antiquity to Galileo during the Renaissance to stem cell research today, the arguments have been heated and the casualties many. But never have any of these encounters been as dramatic as that of Kinsey and American society in the late 1940's.

The new historical drama Kinsey chronicles Kinsey (Liam Neeson) in his Herculean efforts to correct society's views of what is sexually "normal" and open the topic of sex for scientific discussion.

Kinsey, born to a righteous, anti-sex preacher and an uneducated but caring woman, starts out his career as an entomologist, fascinated by gall wasps. He finds their differences so enrapturing that he names each of them. While teaching at Indiana University, he marries his equally peculiar student Clara McMillen (Laura Linney), and, after an incident involving an extremely painful loss of virginity, they have a wonderful marriage and three charming children. As Kinsey continues his professorship, he is exposed to an alarming number of students who have sexual difficulties or confusion in their marriages, which spurs him to begin his extensive sexuality research.

There are many aspects of this film that may offend certain people. Parts of it are pornographic. Some of the language is obscene. Some sexual acts depicted are illegal or not condoned by several religious institutions, although Kinsey finds they are biologically justified.

Ideology aside, Kinsey is spectacularly well done. Neeson's performance absolutely demands awe. He flawlessly captures Kinsey's eccentricity, social awkwardness and genuine compassion. Kinsey's wife is also beautifully portrayed. Added to that is the stellar work by Peter Sarsgaard (Shattered Glass, Garden State), John Lithgow ("3rd Rock From the Sun," Shrek) and Tim Curry, who makes a complete role reversal from his 1975 film debut as a transsexual transvestite in The Rocky Horror Picture Show to a stodgy prig who teaches a college hygiene class.

A cameo by William Sadler (The Shawshank Redemption) adds a moderating dimension to Kinsey. Throughout the film, Kinsey could be misconstrued as a perverse libertine, but Sadler's character, a frighteningly promiscuous man with extensive records of his numerous sexual encounters, dispels this notion. While Kinsey supports people who exercise their free will, he is affronted by people such as Sadler's character, who forcefully exert their will over others.

For its controversial content, Kinsey is astonishingly tactful. The sexual scenes are not arousing, while the political and interpersonal scenes are highly charged. Writer/director Bill Condon does a fabulous job of handling an essential subject with good taste.

Kinsey (118 minutes) is rated R for pervasive sexual content, including some graphic images and descriptions. It is playing at select theatres.

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Erica Hartmann. Erica is a budding techie involved in all things sprucification. More »

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