Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Stuffy Film Review - Kinsey (2004)

A Dangerously Beautiful Kinda Creepy Mind – Kinsey (2004)

I watched this movie last night and wanted to put this review on Netflix but, alas, it was way too long. So, in the interest of keeping this site a good mix of low and high brow, I’m putting it on here. Keep in mind this aint particularly an endorsement of the film… I only wanted to post this somewhere. On with the stuffiness:

Kinsey is neither a great nor lousy film. It tends to float between examining the man and examining his work, illuminating one always to the detriment of the other. The result is a somewhat engrossing look at a scientist so hard-wired to his profession that his cold, analytical look into the facts of human sexual activity (the how’s—he has no intellectual or personal interest in the why’s) ultimately leads to his swift marginalization by a scandalized American public. When his scientific tunnel-vision is seen to neglect the humanity of his subjects Kinsey also loses support from the academic and intellectual world who, under an untenable amount of public and governmental scrutiny, are only too happy to get this bee out of their bonnet.

It is during this time that we see the doctor falling into the fabled trap of the driven scientist--Kinsey begins to get too close to his subject matter. Way too close. More and more he, his research associates and their families become shockingly open with their personal sex lives and practices. They are never uncomfortable in turning the microscope on themselves (a grievous error in scientific data collection) and as a result, the same calculated scientific attitude they bring to their research carries over to their personal lives with ever more chaotic results. Jealousy wells, marriages are ruined and the team falls apart as the science of sexuality increasingly erodes the humanity of sexuality.

This descent doesn’t come entirely unexpected of course. Early in the film we’re given an illustration of just how driven and one-track minded Kinsey is during the gall-wasp collection segments early in his career. We’re also given unending reminders of the scientist's painfully awkward social “graces." While this is reportedly quite true in real life, in the film it all serves the purpose of explaining why he crossed the lines he did and how, for all the incredible insight his work gave us, he couldn’t see the faults in his own research and had no idea how to gracefully present it to the non-scientific American public. The film is never exactly successful in its attempt to realize this conflict which is given the same two-dimensional treatment as Kinsey’s tumultuous relationship with his father. Especially in their blink-and-you-miss-it resolution.

Aside from the percentage of viewers who simply dislike the film for its graphic frankness (a frankness very much in the spirit of the doctor himself), half of its detractors feel it’s got technical and/or narrative flaws while the other half feel it glosses over the man’s personal faults and, more importantly, the faults in his research techniques and conclusions. And really, they're both right. The truth does indeed lie somewhere between the two. But that's no reason to entirely condemn the film--or the man.

In the end, we the viewers are left with a fairly gripping biopic with universal subject matter that never quite gets around to answering any of the questions it raises. Kinsey is certainly worth a watch but in its incompleteness the film practically begs us, ironically enough, to continue the research on our own.

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