Schlong. Willy. Penis. There's an erect one in Kinsey - - on a slide projected by Liam Neeson's charismatic, boundary-pushing professor in a lecture on human sexual behaviour. Is this shocking? His pre-war audience certainly thinks so, and the fact that its presence is worth noting, even in 2005, suggests our society isn't taboo-free either. That the taboo revolves around a few inches of wrinkly skin that look angry when engorged (what a word) is both fascinating and absurd. Bill Condon's deft biopic takes a long, hard look at a clear-eyed rationalist who finds such prudery ridiculous.
But while Kinsey, as portrayed here, is both clinical and brilliant, Condon isn't afraid to show the unpleasant repercussions of his remorselessly logical attitude to rumpy-pumpy. The writer/director is certainly supportive of `Prok' - too supportive, according to critics of the still controversial sex researcher. But the Prof is still presented as the Mr Spock of sex, and sex, as most of us know, is not logical.
We're no doubt meant to admire this man. But as the story develops, it's clear he's far from infallible. Neeson's Kinsey can be cold and heartless, and though Condon clearly believes that society is better off for his groundbreaking research into what goes on beneath America's covers - first published in the seminal (ho-ho) 1948 book Sexual Behaviour In The Human Male - he stops just short of making him a counter-cultural saint.
Crucial in this is Neeson's superbly dispassionate performance. Never asking for our sympathy, never drawing attention to himself, it's his best work since playing another sexually voracious, morally confused character - Oskar Schindler. He's ably supported by Laura Linney, lending her usual dignity and emotion to a role which somewhat undervalues her, while John Lithgow takes a character balancing precariously on the verge of caricature - - Kinsey's overbearing preacher father - - and makes him both believable and affecting. The strongest supporting turn, however, comes from Peter Sarsgaard, who follows his quietly engrossing performances in Garden State and Shattered Glass with another understated dose of disillusioned male youth. Does any other young actor do simmering rage so well?
Condon (Gods And Monsters) deftly conveys a great deal of information as he glides through the years, only slightly over-accelerating as Kinsey becomes a whipping-boy hate figure, and in exploring an earlier generation's uptight attitude to sex, he also poses questions about our 21st century ideals. As Kinsey conducts one of his sex surveys with an `omniphile' (a truly chilling William Sadler), who cheerfully admits to a lifetime of sex with children and animals, Condon challenges us to outline the boundaries of our own sexual tolerance.
The elegant, understated conclusion suggests that beyond tolerance and beyond sex, the greater value - - and mystery - - is love.