The Other Dr. Strangelove

Bill Condons Kinsey, plus Finding Neverland

We see Kinsey in early manhood, sexually untutored and so hopelessly confused about what to put where in bed that his wedding night is an unmitigated disaster—and not just for anatomical reasons. One visit to a doctor and a frank talk between the sheets later, the pair are enjoying a rip-roaring sex life—and not only with one another. In a way, the film belongs less to Kinsey than it does to Clara, sensitively rendered by Linney as a woman of such breadth of vision that she can see where her husband can't both the joy of free sex and its terrible costs. For all her luminous beauty, Linney is at once the most adventurous and least vain of actresses. I doubt she'll be gaining 50 pounds or strapping on a false nose for the sake of an Oscar any time soon, but as Clara (Mac to the couple's intimates), she does stupendous things with a bit of wrinkle makeup and her own elastic emotional range. Thin, brown and freckled, mousy Mac is also, as it turns out, game for almost anything, including bedding at least one of her husband's young research associates (ably played by Peter Scarsgaard, Chris O'Donnell and a deliciously sleazy Timothy Hutton). Yet it's also a deeply hurt Mac who spells out for her clueless husband the emotional toll exacted by his relentless pursuit of the sexual diversity he regards as normal. "Did you ever stop to think," she cries to her uncomprehending spouse, "that those social restraints were meant to stop people from hurting each other?" The dilemmas she poses will be entirely familiar to any '60s graduate who had to listen to a euphoric partner tell them they slept with someone else or several someone elses for the good of their relationship and the cause of free love. Condon doesn't take a position on this. He's showing us that everything has its price and that it is often precisely those visionary enough to push a whole society forward who also have a tin ear for the suffering they cause to those closest to them.

As I write, George W. Bush is crowing over a victory he is said to have won on a platform of moral values. Were he alive today, Kinsey would gnash his teeth over the armies of concerned mothers who voted Bush back in (the sad downside of getting out a female vote that went missing by a stunning 22 million in 2000), not to mention the 11 states that elected to ban gay marriage—surely more an attack on gay lifestyles than a defense of heterosexual marriage. This outcome is a sad reflection on a crucial line in the movie that must surely be a direct quote, Kinsey's impassioned plea that "Sexual morality needs to be reformed, and science will show the way." Yet the fact that gay marriage is up for debate at all is, to some degree, a function of his legacy. At the end of Kinsey, a straight-looking middle-aged woman (played by Lynn Redgrave, who also gave a hilariously mournful reading of James Whale's faithful housekeeper in Gods and Monsters) gives radiant thanks to Kinsey for helping her take a leap that transformed her life. Kinsey died at 62, arguably of a broken heart after the Rockefeller Foundation withdrew his funding and America's morality police drew the line at his findings that women masturbated, had real orgasms and even cheated on their husbands. But he never stopped working, and his heritage lives on in the intensity of our public quarrels about sex and in the range of "unnatural practices" he fought to establish as lying within the definition of what is normal.

IF ALFRED KINSEY DISCOVERED SEX AND ran with it, J.M. Barrie, who wrote Peter Pan and is the subject of the new movie Finding Neverland, may never have gotten it off the ground. By many accounts, the Edwardian Scot, famous for writing the play that captured the imaginations of kids the world over and established kiddie lit as a lucrative market, had a habit of attaching himself to other families, most notably the Llewellyn Davieses, a family with five boys whom he met and befriended in London's Kensington Gardens. Marc Forster's surprisingly wan film (coming from the director of Monster's Ball), adapted by David Magee from a play by Allan Knee, strongly suggests not only that Barrie (Johnny Depp) drew on his relationship with the boys for Peter Pan, but also that the play was written in the throes of romantic love for their mother, Sylvia (Kate Winslet).

I'm all for free adaptation, and I'm willing to believe that just about anyone who has laid eyes on Kate Winslet would fall in love on the spot. But this interpretation seems to be a strategic if distorting avoidance of Barrie's intense relationship with children—you don't have to believe, as some do, that he was a pedophile to say children awoke whatever passed in him for libido—and the fact that he was always a big kid himself. The movie spans a period of several years in which Barrie, trapped in a loveless and probably sexless marriage to a tight-assed social climber (Radha Mitchell), takes up with the Llewellyn Davieses and gestates the play that will make his career.

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