Condon’s ‘Kinsey’ shatters sexual stigma

By Gus Bode

Starring:Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Peter Sarsgaard

Running time:1 hour, 58 minutes

Condon’s ‘Kinsey’ shatters sexual stigma

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3 and 1/2 gus heads out of 4

“Kinsey,” Bill Condon’s elegant, intelligent account of famed 1940s sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, talks a lot – a lot – about sex, but it’s the subtleties it only whispers that speak real volumes.

As one of the film’s central characters bluntly puts it late in the film, “sex is a risky game, and if you’re not careful it will cut you wide open.” These people know that sex is a science, but more than just biology. And writer-director Condon’s film is more than just the story of a groundbreaking study; it’s also a master class in humanity.

Condon (an Oscar winner for 1998’s sublime “Gods and Monsters) knows that sex is a subject kept silent far too long, so he wisely chooses to keep the science quiet and let his characters do the talking. It’s a masterful move.

Talking about sex in the 1940s wasn’t just frowned upon – it was forbidden. People didn’t say penis. They didn’t say vagina. Most men and women didn’t even know how to use either – correctly. Enter Alfred Kinsey.

Kinsey, a biology professor at Indiana University who specialized in obscure insects, wanted to see just how stumped sex had humans. So he hired a research team to ask embarrassing questions, created a complex sexual code and published findings that mesmerized the moral majority.

By the time his second sexual volume, 1953’s “Sexual Behavior in the Human Female,” became a dirty “Davinci Code” on bestseller lists, Kinsey had become the sexual revolution’s posterboy and his career was in ruins. But he didn’t stop there. He kept struggling to get his studies published until his death of a heart attack in 1956 at the age of 62.

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The film closes before the final chapter of Kinsey’s life – and it portrays him a smidge too sainty – but it lets us sit shotgun on his journey from ambitious scientist to sexual martyr. And as Kinsey, “Schindler’s List” star Liam Neeson infuses the man with a genuine feeling and fervor, never hitting a false note. It’s a career-crowning performance.

Laura Linney co-stars as Kinsey’s younger wife (and former student), who sticks by his side as the good doctor’s research begins to strain their relationship – both in and out of the bedroom. When Kinsey’s top assistant Clyde Martin (a sensational Peter Sarsgaard) seduces both the boss and his spouse, the emotional upshot is unsettling and all-too-real.

Chris O’Donnell and Timothy Hutton round out the cast as the rest of Kinsey’s crew and deliver reigned-in performances as researchers plagued by Kinsey’s prompts (active sex participation) and methods (wife-swapping). But as much as Condon’s film shows us and as deep as it digs – and that’s deep – the nagging feeling that there’s more to be told never completely fades away.

There’s a scene between Kinsey and his religious zealot father (John Lithgow) that almost cuts to the bone in its openness, but we never really learn how we got through the skin in the first place. That’s a shame, but “Kinsey” as a whole is a remarkable achievement.

It’s witty and explosive, but also quiet and mournful. It’s the most fully realized film about sex ever and that feat is also the film’s only flaw:sex is almost too much for one screenplay to hold. But that doesn’t mean you want to let it go.

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