Thursday, January 2, 2014

Kinsey (2004)

I recently got around to watching Kinsey, the biopic starring Liam Neeson as the infamous sex researcher Alfred Kinsey. I'm not an expert on the details of Alfred Kinsey's life or studies, despite the fact that his work is right up my alley. But I never had any formal education into the history of human sexuality studies, and most of what I know comes from my own experiences and the application of my own skeptical, analytical mind.

But I was looking forward to seeing this movie, and have for a long time been of the mind that I could stand to have a bit more familiarity with Kinsey's work. As of now, however, all I have to go on is the dramatized depiction of the individual in this movie adaptation of his life and work, which may, admittedly, be biased to some degree. But that is something I cannot comment on, not having more information, and as far as the movie tells it, I am nothing but impressed.

The movie itself, I would have to say, is very well done. There is very little I could criticize about it, and, in keeping with the aims of Kinsey's research, it does a successful job of emphasizing not only much of his findings, but the importance of those findings in both a biological and social context, as well as the overbearing conservative pressure that exists in society with the aim to silence his discoveries and discredit his methods (an issue that comes up in any mixed group where Kinsey is discussed, even to this day, disappointingly).

Arrived at via extensive scientific and statistical research, Kinsey cataloged the sexual behaviors of myriad people, asking them just the sorts of questions to uncover the activities the majority of the population engages in, but (and especially at the time - early-mid 20th century) are so reluctant to talk about. Among his contributions to our collective cultural understanding of human sexuality is the discovery that many people are far more sexual than they let on in polite company. To indicate otherwise is nothing short of disingenuous.

He also pioneered the "Kinsey scale" of sexual orientation, which suggests (backed up by evidence) that rather than a binary, most people fall somewhere along a sliding scale between gay and straight. According to this film, Kinsey also experimented with open relationships, and embraced the idea that sex can be a physical act divested of its traditional exclusionary romantic complications (although the reality of this view may be fraught with the complications of the human mind).

Perhaps of greatest sensitivity, the film also emphasizes the importance of Kinsey's research to the individual lives of the public. While many - who are beholden to their traditional moral codes that prohibit a free and open approach towards matters of a sexual nature - resist Kinsey's discoveries, the fact is that repression and shame destroys people's lives, where an honest approach can, as exemplified by the account of one individual interviewee in the film, save lives.

This is no more apparent than in cases of sexual minorities that are widely discriminated against. And while I am very happy to see homosexuality become more and more accepted in my lifetime, it is but one of a vast diversity of human sexual orientations, many of which continue to be ridiculed and stigmatized. Not afraid, even, to address the implications of his research to the inhumane treatment of sex offenders, Kinsey was, truly, a visionary and a revolutionary and, at least as depicted in this film, a true sex-positive, which is so incredibly rare to find.

The most amazing and most depressing point in any discussion of Alfred Kinsey is the fact that despite all the breakthroughs he made in the field of human sexuality, there is still so much work to be done, and - this would be inexplicable if human nature weren't so predictable - there is still so much resistance to his findings and the implications they have for us as a species and as a civilized society. Nothing would please me more in this life than to be able to contribute to the great social project that Kinsey started.

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