Kinsey: film (2004)

Three BCN readers review the 2004 film

Buy it now on Amazon: Kinsey [DVD] [2004]

I thought the film was very good, especially for a modern Hollywood biopic, since these do seem to tend towards the dry and po-faced. It was very subtle with a lot of dry humour, which also underlined nicely the world Kinsey lived in and some of the more over the top beliefs about sex at the time. I particularly enjoyed the ironic scene where Kinsey’s research assistant (Clyde Martin) uses the Kinsey scale as a device to make a pass at him (‘where do you think I am on the scale? where are you?’ etc.) It was particularly good for a bisexual viewer, considering the use of ‘Kinsey 3’ as a term for a bisexual.

I felt the film was nicely matter of fact and realistic about the sex lives of Kinsey, his researchers and their wives, many of whom were sexually involved with each other. It portrayed well the ironies of Kinsey’s life: the disjunct between the 1950s middle class settings and conversations about who was having sex with whom. I also really liked the depiction of the tension between Kinsey’s own rebellion against his father and his own conflict with his son’s desire to be ‘normal’. The relationships within the Kinsey familiar were beautifully represented, although I was a bit worried that Clara Kinsey’s role in shaping Kinsey’s science was underplayed. She came across too much as just the understanding wife whereas actually she was also a trained biologist. Many scientists’ wives of this period have subsequently been found to be vital to their husbands’ research. I also felt that the gay scene was depicted in the movie as just a 1950s version of the scene today. The fact that this was not the case is illustrated well in a letter Kinsey wrote to one of the gay men he had interviewed in 1939 who had asked why, if love was so beautiful, his expression of it could be seen as wrong.

‘Dear Ed,
The only answer I can give that seems at all sense is that it happens to be out of fashion in the society through which you have to move…God, man, how I wish the economies of the world could be affected to give youth a better change, more of the desired social contacts, and the other things that have been at the base of your heart aches. If I can ever serve, I wish you would let me.
Alfred Kinsey, Professor of Zoology’

I felt one of the most important things the film did was to underline how very, very, much has changed since Kinsey’s time: he needed to be completely respectable, seemingly to the point of marrying off his bisexual research assistant. There was no possibility of being ‘out’, or even of the concept. I loved the scene at the end where a woman breaks off from her research interview and thanks Kinsey for literally saving her life (reading his book had enabled her to begin a relationship with the woman she was in love with).

The film Kinsey highlights the still desperate importance, not only of doing this kind of research, but also of making it available, accessible and understandable to the rest of world, even if the world may be pretty hostile to what researchers have to say; and research funders and institutions may be less than supportive when the findings become public.


I saw the film Kinsey with a group of the students who I teach as part of a cultural studies course on sexuality. The students were familiar with the work of Alfred Kinsey, but they, and I, really enjoyed learning more about the life of the man behind such groundbreaking research. My favourite scene had to be the one where Clyde Martin, who has been sleeping with Kinsey, tells him that he’d really like to have sex with his wife as well!

As a lecturer teaching sexuality, I particularly enjoyed the scenes in the university. By talking openly about sex and relationships in his teaching Kinsey clearly made a real difference to the personal lives of his students. I believe that, in a culture, which is still quite wary of talking openly about sex, it can make a real difference for students to discuss such issues in class. When I teach about the findings of Kinsey and other, more recent, sex researchers, students often ask the same kinds of questions that Kinsey’s students ask in the movie and express similar relief on finding out about the diversity of human sexual behaviours.

According to Gathorne-Hard (p.98-99) Kinsey’s students asked the following kinds of questions: ‘Does it matter if I’ve had intercourse at my age (or not had it) with someone of this or that age? If I did it this or that number of times with this or that number of people or with someone of the same sex? Does everyone masturbate? Is my penis smaller than most penises? Is it unusual for my boyfriend to want to do this or that? Was I odd to show off my genitals when small?’


I’d read very good reviews of Kinsey and had enjoyed the last movie Bill Condon directed, Gods and Monsters, which was about the persecuted gay horror movie director James Whale (played by Ian McEllen), and sensitively depicted a relationship between Whale and his gardener (played by Brendon Fraser). I liked Kinsey very much indeed and felt it had a message that was as applicable today as it was in Kinsey’s time, that there really is very little science behind what is put out as sex education: the line in the movie is ‘morality disguised as fact’ and I think that still fits what is being taught in many UK and US schools and colleges today.

The acting in the film was great, particularly Liam Neeson (Kinsey) and Laura Lindsey, who very much deserved the Oscar that she was awarded for playing Clara Kinsey. It was an unusually good biopic. Such films often get dragged down because telling life-stories can be difficult in a ninety-minute format. My favourite scene was when the Kinsey family were sitting round the dinner table talking openly about sex and Kinsey suggested that his daughter’s boyfriend should try stimulating her clitoris when having sex with her. His son jumps up from the table shouting ‘do we have to talk about sex all the time’! I also enjoyed the end credits with the footage of animals having sex from the Kinsey Institute Archives. I like the implicit statement that sexuality should be demystified. There’s really no magic about it; it’s just something we do.