The joy of sex discovered and disclosed.

Steve McQueen's Boon Hogganbeck in The Reivers says to his young companion about a bordello's erotic painting of a woman, "It's a mystery." Before Alfred Kinsey published his Sexual Activity in the Human Male (1948), most of the American population thought the same about sex. Nothing was the same after Kinsey, just as psychology was not after Freud. People could talk about it, sexologists became stars, and psyches were forever freed to consider the rich rainbow of possibilities that were already being covertly practiced by gays and straights, young and old. Director Bill Condon's masterful "Kinsey" presents the joy of sex discovered and disclosed by the titular scientist and the censure by those who found the truth too painful.

Besides an unusually faithful realism for a biopic, the film has humanity disarming and wonderful to behold. Kinsey's wife goes through difficult times adjusting her conservative background to Kinsey's liberated world vision (She learns quickly as she admits, "I think I might like that," when Kinsey encourages her to have a fling with a young associate). Kinsey himself is a flawed hero, clumsy on his wedding night and obtuse about human emotion, especially when it comes to understanding the conjunction of love and sexuality (his belief that the two could be separated almost destroyed his marriage and the lives of his coworkers).

The film does not pander to the volatile nature of the subject or to the cult status Kinsey enjoyed after his initial study. The hero is revealed many times in his moments of inspiration, such as when he guides his staff through the art of interviewing. This anatomy of a genius goes even beyond this year's Ray in revealing the influences and inspirations for a culture-changing icon.

John Lithgow as Kinsey's father, Alfred Seguine Kinsey, is the only acting note off center: He stereotypes the preacher as ranter against evils like necking until he discloses his own abused childhood. Although Lithgow's character helps to explain Kinsey's emotional immaturity, a little of Lithgow goes a long way in this film. Laura Linney, on the other hand, plays Clara Kinsey cute enough to grab our affection and strong enough to be sexy in middle age.

Maybe we should just try to forget the whole sex business that Dr. Kinsey fomented. We should listen to Nabokov in his String of Opinions: "Sex as an institution, sex as a general notion, sex as a problem, sex as a platitude--all this is something I find too tedious for words. Let's skip sex."

Publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953) may have shortened Kinsey's life with its bold disclosures to a still Puritanical society. The film, like Kinsey's work, may save countless spiritual lives.