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Kinsey (2004)
Let's talk about sex
Filmmaker(s): Bill Condon

Kinsey is a portrait of researcher Alfred Kinsey, driven to uncover the most private secrets of a nation. What begins for Kinsey as a scientific endeavor soon takes on an intensely personal relevance, ultimately becoming an unexpected journey into the mystery of human behavior.

Kinsey (2004)

The Wrong Interview

Here’s a major problem in drama: you want to deal with big issues, great disembodied, cosmic sweeps of things. Things that people love or make them suffer. This is why people come.

But the tools we have to display these things are humans, usually. So the dramatist has to invent or find situations that have humans, human behavior and these grand sweeps entangled in some way. And it has to be a particular way so that the engagement with the humans on the screen leads us somehow to those sweeps.

Sometimes the connection is daft as we equate certain people as surrogates for trends. I had a school teacher that (twice!) showed us “Johnny Tremain“ as our main lesson on the Revolutionary War.

Okay. One of the big things that entices and scars us is sex, and particularly its incomprehensible but overwhelming nature. So what makes more sense to us, who wish to understand it, than a story about a man who dedicated his life to understanding it?

Well, there are two problems, long before you get to the skill of the thing. The first is that if the character is to bring us to the topic, he has to be fully entangled. The two have to merge in a way that when we see and understand him, we find ourselves incidentally in the clouds of the thing he represents. It doesn’t happen.

And part of the reason is the nature of the man himself. Ordinary audiences think of science as a single notion. But it is not. There is the business of noting what is there, but that is the secretarial work of science. Mere accounting. Then there is the business of spinning abstractions, models, theories then insight and understanding. Kinsey was the first and blindly so, in fact he would appear to a full scientist just as Tim Curry‘s character is to him here.

Counting is not comprehension. So in real life, this is more of a “Tucker” story than a John Nash one. And it is mighty hard to weave that entanglement if it was never there, and the nature of the thing takes you in the wrong direction.

What underscores this is that the opposing forces here — religious moralists, pontificating politicians — are stronger and more numerous today when it comes to matters sexual than more than 50 years ago. There’s been negative progress, both because Kinsey was off, but also because people like those behind this film actually thought that was the good fight.

Linney gets it. She’s a pleasure in any project. She gets it because she conveys to us the simple tolerance of her man and all that surrounds him, including the film crew and we the audience. She shows us all that she knows we’re fooling ourselves about this, and that wisdom and insight is deadly elusive.

Its going to take more than the Ron Howard school of filmmaking to make us fly into sexual insights. it is a clever idea to frame the thing as an interview with him, to introduce him as an interviewer. Just not enough.

There’s a very fine bit of acting in this. Almost at the end, in less than three minutes, Lynn Redgrave is an interviewee who tells Kinsey he saved her life. Watch it and believe. Here is an example of how that entanglement can work.

Posted in 2006

Ted’s Evaluation — 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.


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