the beat of digital culture
home | archives | about us | feedback

Daily Relay

Tracking trends and development in digital culture

special section:
Mindjack Film
Fresh thinking on current and classic cinema

Mindjack T-Shirts
Only $15US
shipping included


Mindjack Release
Sign up to receive details of new issues


DVD reviewed by Matt Hinrichs

June 12, 2005 | If there's a guiding philosophy behind Kinsey, it might be "the more things change, the more things stay the same." Bill Condon's stately biopic opened in November 2004 to glowing reviews, only to find its lackluster box office gleefully celebrated as a victory by the "moral values" crowd. Well, phooey on them.

For all the moral complexities surrounding it, Kinsey amounts to a simple story about the boundaries between science and human emotion. The film is crafted intelligently enough to let viewers conclude for themselves the appropriateness of the man's work and life.

Kinsey, the movie, came along at exactly the right time—just when Kinsey, the man, threatened to disappear into America's collective warehouse of quaint '50s relics. Professor Alfred Kinsey's achievements in sexual behavior research were explosive (Condon fittingly illustrates the public reaction to his first book, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, with footage of an atomic bomb blast). His findings, coming from an exhaustive survey in which thousands of average people unloaded every minute detail of their sexual histories, helped open an honest dialogue about sex. The result was an understanding that it wasn't all shame and evil and hairy palms.

As portrayed by Liam Neeson, Kinsey is presented as a not altogether likable guy—frustrated, self-doubting, remote. His obsessiveness (seen best in earlier scenes where Kinsey catalogs the minute variations of gall wasps) proves to be both his own personal liberation and his undoing. The movie wouldn't be nearly as appealing if it only focused on him, but co-star Laura Linney is afforded nearly as much screen time as Kinsey's patient wife, Clara. A good move on screenwriter Condon's part; Linney's enchanting no-nonsense characterization serves as the heart and soul of the film. It was no surprise that her performance received the film's sole Oscar nomination. Peter Sarsgaard, Chris O'Donnell and Tim Hutton turn in similarly fine work as Kinsey's sex institute associates. Indeed, the entire cast (filled with many New York-based theatrical performers) is top-notch.

For a film with such controversial subject matter, Bill Condon's detatched, clinical direction is something of a letdown. Strangely enough, the most shocking scene occurs when Sarsgaard completely strips off his clothes (a moment that speaks more for Hollywood's timidity about male nudity than anything else). Although there are several much needed scenes of humor and lightness, this story is told with the pervasive solemnity of an Important Picture. At times, the film plods along like those old studio-era bios of the noble scientist pursuing a theory amongst the naysayers—only instead of Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon discovering radium, here we have Neeson and Linney attempting to uncover the popularity of cunnilingus.

That quibble aside, Kinsey is a beautifully made film brimming with wonderful performances.

20th Century Fox's two-disc DVD showcases Kinsey in a terrific looking and sounding presentation. Bill Condon's lively commentary and the accompanying 90-minute making of documentary demonstrate the fantastic ingenuity the crew went through during production. For a film with scarcely the budget of an average made for TV flick, it is a truly extraordinary achievement. Other features include an interactive sex quiz, a short tour though the Kinsey Institute gallery, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

Matt Hinrichs is a Phoenix-based writer and designer. In addition to Mindjack Film, he blogs regularly at

advertise here
email for info


home | about us | feedback