Written and directed by Bill Condon, this film recounts the tale of Kinsey's professional career, from his early days as a Harvard researcher looking at gall wasps through his career at Indiana University, first as a biologist, and then as director of the research project and institute that today bears his name.
Kinsey is a complex character - perhaps the only way he could get away with his study in the environment of mid-century America was that he was the quintessential academic, in dress, demeanor, and attitude. His process of research, be it on gall wasps or on human subjects, was exactingly clinical. The essence of this devotion and adherence to objective procedure is captured in the film (both in terms of wasps and in terms of people).
One exchange between Kinsey and his fellow researcher Clyde Martin illustrates the point:
Alfred Kinsey: 'The doctors say my heart sounds like a cement mixer.'
Clyde Martin: 'At least they found one.'
Kinsey was aided by his wife, the free-thinking graduate student Clara McMillan. While a biology professor, Kinsey's openness made him a magnet for students to seek him out; sometimes their questions were regarding personal problems. When Kinsey sought out guidance in clinical research, he was frustrated to find there was none, even in medical literature, to help guide him in his counseling for the students. This inspired Kinsey to research, and even to offer classes dealing with the subject (these human sexuality classes are still offered at Indiana University, as well as other universities across the country).
Kinsey's work derived from interviews with literally thousands of subjects, data from whom was collected and compiled, and finally distilled into a major report, 'Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male', published in 1948. While Kinsey had assured the university and those funding his research that his report would be objective and descriptive rather than prescriptive, it was perhaps inevitable that Kinsey would climb down from this pedestal and make the statement that, based on the observable evidence, there is a much wider range to what constitutes 'being normal' than was previously held (particularly in polite, post-Victorian-morality society). This set off a firestorm of controversy the engulfed his research at the same time as the 'red scare' was becoming a prominent issue in the United States.
Kinsey's follow-up volume on human sexuality in females was seen as an attack on family values and 'the American way', and Kinsey's faith in his own processes and work was tested as his health began to falter at the same time. However, the groundwork had been laid, and the field continued to grow and flourish through the rest of the century, both through Kinsey's own institute as well as others founded later.
Condon's direction and writing is very clever, edging between documentary form at times and dramatic play at others. It includes a bit of irony in one exchange:
Reporter: 'Any plans on a Hollywood picture based on the book?'
Alfred Kinsey: 'I can't think of anything more pointless.'
Condon interviewed many of Kinsey's colleagues prior to writing, in essence using Kinsey's own technique. Liam Neeson plays the title role well, with clinical detachment and academic concern held in balance with his obvious passion for his subject. Laura Linney turns in a great performance as Clara; the three other roles of note include Tim Curry as the jealous faculty colleague, Peter Sarsgaard as close research colleague Clyde Martin (who lets his own personal involvement with both Kinsey and his wife create a bit of trouble for the group), and Oliver Platt, who plays the late, great Herman Wells, the visionary leader of Indiana University who hid his own sexual secrets fairly well through his career (for a gay man to be successful in Indiana during that time was a remarkable feat; that one should embrace controversies such as Kinsey, which was courting disaster, was astonishing).
The style of the film is very true to the mid-century; sets, costumes, vehicles, manners - all of these things combine to give a very good depiction of the time and place. This in many ways blunts the subject, but in other ways reinforces it - sexuality is not the domain just of the young, or just of the modern, or just of anything, but can be found in every time and place, including the more antiseptic and conservative of locations. Perhaps this is also part of Condon's point with the film, being produced at a time of resurgent conservatism in North America.
There is a single-disc and double disc version available. The single disc has a commentary track by Bill Condon, subtitles available, and options for wide-screen or full-screen viewing.
The double-disc version includes all of the above, plus Spanish and French audio tracks, featurettes including a brief documentary on the Kinsey Report, twenty deleted scenes, an interactive sex questionnaire, and an overview of sex education at the Kinsey Institute.
Also, be sure and listen in the film for Ella Fitzgerald's rendition of 'Too Darn Hot', a Cole Porter song that has the lyric, 'According to the Kinsey Report...'