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It’s been six years since Bill Condon made the phenomenal Gods and Monsters, which explored the hushed tragedy of James Whale, the gay director behind the 1930s horror classics Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. The immediate question that comes to mind while watching Condon’s equally phenomenal Kinsey is: what took him so long to get back to work?
How long? Linney and Neeson
Condon’s biopic conveys a dramatic eloquence that all too often eludes films of this genre. While the facts of Alfred Kinsey’s life are detailed in a more or less linear form, the movie’s overall tone takes it cue from the sexually-charged nature of Kinsey’s groundbreaking work.
Kinsey, of course, was renowned for his exploration of human sexuality, a scientifically-driven quest that absorbed the latter half of his life as a professor at Indiana University. Using an in-depth, personalized interviewing approach, Kinsey and his research assistants amassed an astonishing amount of data, which formed the foundation of his bestselling Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and its follow-up volume on the female of the species. Kinsey was a kind of Christopher Columbus of sexuality, a man who debunked the puritan-based myths surrounding human sexuality and proving, among other things, that most people were in fact normal in their diverse sexual appetites.Â “Homosexuality, premarital and extramarital sex are much more prevalent [in society] than anyone imagined before,” he says. Kinsey helped folks realize that they were normal; he stripped some of the guilt and shame out of sex.
Kinsey walked headfirst into a controversial battleground, but he moved with the single-minded determination of a true scientific pioneer. “The only way to study sex with any scientific accuracy,” he tells the grant-givers at the Rockefeller Foundation, which funded his study before pulling out in the paranoid, Communism-crazed ’50s, “is to strip away everything but the physiological functions.”
But Kinsey couldn’t fully extricate emotions from carnality, since sex itself is not, in human terms, merely a clinical, instinctive act. The complicated nature of sex is expressed throughout Condon’s film, sometimes startlingly.
The major battle for Kinsey was on a moral front. It’s a battle that continues with the release of this film, as several religious groups have been discontent about its release and its glorification of the scientist who many believe to be the man who started America on a path to full moral decline. But Kinsey’s findings — and the Kinsey Institute’s continued work — were notable at the time because they bucked religious and social stigmas in the face of reality. Citing the alarming rise of venereal disease to a colleague, Kinsey is met with the reply: “There’s a cure for syphilis and it is abstinence.” “Penicillin works just as well,” snaps Kinsey. Later, referring to America’s ignorant approach to sex education, he scoffs “It’s morality disguised as fact.” Much of Kinsey’s interest in morality is traced to his childhood, where he rebelled against a stern, disapproving father (John Lithgow).
Kinsey faced troubles in his adult life, as well, and an erotically charged atmosphere with his research assistants, jokingly referred to as the “Fuller Brush Men of Sex,” often led to a hands-on approach that went beyond the clinical and reached into far deeper intimacies.
Condon knows where to draw the line — an intense dialogue between Kinsey and a man whose actions are pedophilic in nature is alarming and unsettling. The director explores Kinsey’s own emerging bisexuality in a passionate outpouring between the professor and his star researcher (tenderly portrayed by Peter Sarsgaard), as well as the affair’s impact on Kinsey’s free-thinking wife Clara (a marvelously understated Laura Linney).
Liam Neeson’s performance is at once clinically detached and deeply personal, a fine balancing act that shows a man teetering between resolve and self-doubt. It’s Neeson’s finest work in years and may just snag him an Oscar nomination.
There are those for whom Kinsey will be far too explicit, but considering the subject matter, the movie is fairly tame. There are actions, to be certain, but the words (and the performances) speak loudest, providing an insightful look at the vital — and potentially life-saving — contribution Alfred Kinsey made to our society.
Who knew a sponge could be such an exceptional source of entertainment? Clearly Nickelodeon knew: and the Spongebob Squarepants cartoon series is one of the cable network’s most popular offerings. Spongebob’s leap to the big screen multiplies a typical fifteen minute episode by seven but the film absorbs the extra minutes with ease. A wacky, giddy romp into extreme silliness, The Spongebob Squarepants Movie is a full-out hoot. It’s best to enter the theater and simply let the antics of Spongebob and his starfish pal, the pink, dimwitted Patrick, wash over you, as they attempt to foil the villanious gherkin-like Plankton and save their beloved Bikini Bottom. They do it with the help of David Hasselhoff. How great is that?