Basic Instinct: ‘I wasn’t dating him; I was fucking him’

Quoted from Stone’s Catherine Tramell, this sums up Verhoeven’s interpretation on sex, relationships and murder as you find yourself disassociated from the characters.

When released, Basic Instinct generated controversy for multiple reasons: the strong violence and sexual content in the film. Some were not happy with the portrayal of the bisexual lead, how the homosexual relationships are viewed and the impression that they felt LGBT characters presented to the audience.

A modern day film noir thriller with influences from the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. This was and still would be a risky film to be a part of Hollywood still, does not represent sex in such an open way. Despite Michael Douglas being our complex protagonist Nick Curran, the real star of the film is Sharon Stone, whose biggest role prior to the film was Verhoeven’s Total Recall and was largely unknown prior to the film and took on the role of Catherine Tramell, who takes on the classic role of femme fatale to another level.

The film focuses on troubled detective Nick Curran, who is investigating the brutal murder of rock star, Johnny Boz. As he investigates Nick Curran becomes intrigued with Catherine Tramell, a mysterious crime novelist writer, lover of the victim and the prime suspect in the investigation who drags Nick into her web as he attempts to play her at her own game.

The prime suspect of the film is Catherine Tramell, immediately mystery surrounds her, when Nick first meets Catherine, she is a beautiful blonde woman, she oozes with confidence and it is clear that Nick is intrigued as he takes his sunglasses off, he is attracted to the suspect – which every film suggests will not end well. Catherine is very fascinating as she shows no remorse or sadness for Boz’s death, the way Stone portrays her is captivating as she casually says in a blasé way “I wasn’t dating him, I was fucking him”. A line that isn’t often said by female characters in films. Catherine keeps making eye contact with Nick and addresses him, drawing Nick in as well as the audience. You should be telling him to stay away, but you’ll find yourself unable to, as you are also intrigued by Stone’s character.

Eszterhas and Verhoeven represent women in an almost equal manner to the men, perhaps even more. Both of the main women in the film: Catherine Tramell and Dr Beth Garner (Jeanne Tripplehorn) are both intelligent women, smarter than the men. The detectives discover that Catherine wrote about the murder of rock star as the storyline to a novel that she wrote years before it happened. Dr Garner explains that this provides herself with an Alibi which Catherine is aware of as she explains during the iconic interrogation scene.

Catherine is the ultimate modern day femme fatale. When interrogated, she asserts power and control over the men. All the detectives, apart from Nick are polite to her – they don’t initially suspect that a beautiful woman like her killed someone and could be so calculating, she uses this to her advantage, as she challenges the authority of the detectives as she smokes despite not being asked to. She discusses sex openly in an attempt to make the men uncomfortable. This is a game to Catherine, which is shown then she subtly exposes her vagina to the detectives in the iconic scene from the film – she has no barriers and they are uncomfortable. This action makes her even more of a femme fatale, she is able to go one step further – Catherine lures Nick in with her confidence through her sexuality and intelligence as opposed to acting like the victim that Nick needs to protect that previous film noirs like Vertigo does, Catherine only shows vulnerability once Nick is already in her web – simply to trap him to ensure that he can’t walk away.

Verhoeven is influenced by Hitchcock’s Vertigo with Catherine looking similar to Kim Novak’s character even at one point having the same hairstyle as her. While in a scene in which Nick follows Catherine in his car resembles to James Stewart’s character following Novak’s in Vertigo. Both scenes rely on pure sound. However, the difference in this scene is that it’s a cat and mouse game, the characters are driving recklessly and chaotic, Catherine knows they she is getting away with it, her confidence draws Nick in as he recently got cleared of a crime by Internal Affairs, the car chase sums up Nick and Catherine’s relationship.

Michael Douglas does a good job of being an unsympathetic character. Naturally, we like to align ourselves with the protagonist but it’s hard to like Douglas’ character when it comes abundantly clear early on that he is a walking cliché. Nick Curran is cocky, likes to think that he’s the smarter one, and only excels in showing control through actions, he sucks at asserting control through mind games. As the film progresses and we learn more about him, he becomes more dreadful. By the end of the film, you find yourself not caring about any of the characters in this complex, messed up, sinful world.

This film is an interesting take on the film noir genre, a new style of the femme fatale is introduced as sex is used to draw the man in. Many argue that Basic Instinct is a misogynistic film, however, some could argue that it is about women using their sexuality to be better than the men, to make sure they have an equal footing in a man’s world. They are confident in their looks. The men’s roles are extremely dull compared to the women or just unlikable.

This film appeals to men more than it will appeal to the women. If you are looking for a good film to watch on a quiet night with family, this film is not you. If on TV, this will be the kind of film that you’d flick the channel over for something else. This film is not entertaining to watch and will leave you frustrated. Though your curiosity might have already been spiked and if you watch this film, you’ll find yourself drawn into Stone’s stellar performance as Catherine and it will become the talking point of the film.

Basic Instinct
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Scriptwriter: Joe Eszterhas Starring: Michael Douglas; Sharon Stone; George Dzundza; Jeanne Tripplehorn
Released: 1992
Running Time: 128 minutes (2 hours 8 minutes)

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