After all the brouhaha about “Kinsey,” the film about Alfred Kinsey, whose Kinsey Report brought a sea change in sexual mores when it came out in the 1950s, I took myself to the movie in much the same spirit that I went to see “Fahrenheit 9/11.” It’s one of those movies you just have to see, even if you know it’s going to make you angry.
But the same thing happened to me that had happened with “Fahrenheit”: I found the movie so unintentionally hilarious that I was afraid I was going to get kicked out of the movie theatre for laughing and pounding on the armrests. Dr. Kinsey, in his crazed pursuit of “sexual histories” from all sorts of really weird looking people reminded me of crazed Dr. Otto Octavius in “Spider-Man.” You almost expected him to spout extra sets of arms like Octavius did. John Lithgow, who played Dr. Kinsey’s really nasty minister father, enhanced the unintentionally comedic effect by occasionally employing the same facial expressions he used as Dick Solomon, the space alien Lithgow played on the TV show “Third Rock from the Sun.”
First off, I’d like to say a nice word about the look of “Kinsey.” The movie had very pretty settings–despite being a humble, sex-crazed professor, Kinsey lived in a house that would bring millions in Cleveland Park. Liam Neeson as Kinsey was craggy and stylish, not at all like the guys you glimpse pursuing Kinsey-like research in the roped off, adult sections of magazine stands. Laura Linney as the loyal Mrs. Kinsey was exquisite. Ditto Peter Sarsgaard, who played Clyde Martin, one of Kinsey’s researchers. He was so gorgeous that you really couldn’t blame both Kinseys for jumping in and out of bed with him.
As portrayed in the film, the Kinseys overcame initial problems of sexual incompatibility in their marriage to become sex-crazed and obsessed–son Bruce, who’d probably consider mean old Gramps a lot less embarrassing than Mom and Dad, wonders why the folks insist on talking about parts of the anatomy I can’t mention on a family web site at the dinner table. I felt for Bruce. We all go through stages when we’re ashamed of our parents, but I have to admit having a dad who goes on about the clitoris (and other anatomical features) over a home-cooked pot roast is bound to make you think twice before inviting your friends over.
It was the Kinseys’ original problems in the sack–along with a hatred of his sexually-uptight father–that created Kinsey’s path in life. Kinsey became obsessed with “helping” other young couples overcome their frigidity. The absolute funniest scene in the film is when a really fifties couple come to Kinsey for help. The girl has blond hair and red lipstick, both indicating that she is hopelessly stuck in the provincial fifties. He asks them what position they use, and she says something like, “You mean there’s more than one?” Kinsey is profoundly saddened. I thought I’d die laughing. It was just a great scene.
I can’t say much for the scientific method Otto Octavius–I mean, Dr. Kinsey–uses. It seems to consist of asking everybody and anybody he meets to tell him about their sex lives. There are several scenes in which he prepares his researchers to be non-judgmental. This is hard to do when somebody had just confided a non-solo experience in a barn that doesn’t involve another member of our species, but the researchers manage. It’s impossible to guess how random or representative the samplings are. I have a hunch that they were about as accurate as the early exit polls in this year’s presidential race. In one scene, Kinsey and one of his intrepid researchers interview a weird looking guy who has documented all his sexual encounters in notebooks, including his 605 sexual encounters with adolescent boys. This is too much for the researcher who throws down his notebook and leaves in disgust. Kinsey stays. I don’t know what the real Kinsey said to men who’d molested 605 little boys, but in the movie Kinsey utters a brief little speech on how he doesn’t approve of everything. I had a feeling that that little homily had been included for the benefit of the theatre audience, who might otherwise be offended–you see child molesters haven’t yet won their struggle for acceptance, even with liberal audiences.
Kinsey and his researchers spend lots of time looking at movies that some would consider voyeuristic, but it’s all for science. They also hop in and out of bed with each other, and the thing that really got me was why that dazzling, come hither Clyde Martin’s wife chose to hop in the sack with the ugliest guy on the research team. But then I realized that that is the point: The underlying idea of the movie is that no matter how dorky you are on the outside, you may have a fabulous sex life, with yourself or others. One of the supposedly touching scenes in the movie features an elderly lady who fell in love with another elderly lady and never had the courage to express her feelings until she read the Kinsey Report. She realized her feelings were normal and has come to touch the hem of Kinsey’s garment. It occurred to me then what the point of Kinsey really was (in real life): People not only want to do what they want to do, they want to be told that no matter what they do, it’s normal, it’s okay. That is what Kinsey told them. That is why he’s a social icon.
A friend of mine, a good liberal who finds much in modern life distasteful but struggles mightily not to be judgmental, was so turned off by the constant talk about masturbation that she left early, thereby missing talk about subjects that make self-abuse seem comparatively normal. Not that the movie was ever far from the subject of masturbation.
In fact, we learn towards the end of the movie in what is supposed to be a very touching scene–and may well be for those of us who weren’t seeing Dick Solomon from Third Rock–that the reason Dr. Kinsey’s mean old minister dad is such a piece of work is that he was cruelly prevented from engaging in this activity as a child. The movie seems to say that, not only will you not go blind, you will be much more well-adjusted if you do a lot of this sort of thing.
The Kinseys age well together, and I have to say you have to hand it to a wife who can walk on her husband in the bathroom and find he has sliced his foreskin with a razor and not be judgmental. As the movie draws to a close, the Kinseys go walking on a forest and enjoy the flora and fauna. The scene is beautifully filmed and would be moving if, by this time, you didn’t realize that he is a total loon.
There is only one way the movie could have been any better–if it had been a musical. No, I’m not kidding. The use of music was great and stylish. When the Kinsey Report is rolling off the presses, you hear “Too Damned Hot,” and later, when there are scenes of animals doing what the birds and the bees do, “Fever” is playing. If you can laugh–and you’d have to have a heart of stone not to–you’ll love “Kinsey.”