Review – Basic Instinct

Posted on by Dave

Bea Harper

Basic Instinct [1992]

‘Basic Instinct’ truly is one of those movies you will either appreciate or say is utter trash, and it just so happens, if done cleverly, I love utter trash which has an entertaining face. While this film really makes no bones (he he, I said ‘bones’) about what it is on the surface (a lurid, early 90’s erotic thriller), deep down, there are so many issues that can be discussed on an intellectual basis.We all know that this movie did not and never will win any awards for being a sterling look into the human spirit, but it is almost always overlooked as an important piece of cinema just because the audience saw va-jay-jay. To me, this is a very stylized look of the ever-going battle of the sexes on celluloid. While this battle has seen many arenas through drama, comedy and even action, ‘Basic Instinct’ takes this to the battlefield of transgressive sex, violence and mind games, a clever option because those three sensationalist elements really do put bums in the seats. Paul Verhoven, you really are a sly fox.

Upon viewing this movie recently, what surprised me is that despite the movie opening with a bang (literally), there really isn’t a lot of the torrid sex this film is lauded to have. Yes, it is there and yes, it’s explicit, but a distinct aura of sex is what truly permeates through this movie more than the sex itself. When we first see Catherine Trammell (Sharon Stone, in a performance which truly has defined her career for better or worse) she was the Hitchcockian icy blonde for the ’90’s- she doesn’t give anybody the time of day unless it’s for her own amusement. Despite her gorgeous looks, she is anything but vulnerable. She is feminine yet masculine in how she conducts herself around other men. She is for all intents a purposes a predator rather than prey in the male gaze. Although she isn’t afraid to show off her body, she doesn’t allow anybody to touch it without her permission- in short, she is a sex bomb, NOT a sex object, something which no doubt makes her a threat to the male characters in this film.


When vice-ridden Detective Nick Curan (Michael Douglas) decides he is the best man to bring Trammell to justice and in the process becomes involved in a dangerous affair with her, he knows she could very well be the death of him, but does that stop him?

I am of several minds when it comes to this movie. I do not believe this is a terribly intelligent film, nor do I believe it is strictly an excuse to show flesh. Countless musings have been made about ‘Basic Instinct’ and how it symbolizes the ongoing ‘battle of the sexes’, transgression, sexual preferences and a whole plethora of matters that concern society even today. Back in 1992, although bisexuality and homosexuality was indeed common, it held an enormous amount of shock value when it came to displaying its extremities on the big screen. One of the major selling points of this movie that has provoked so much discussion is the portrayal of these sexual culture- it is seen as highly sexual, but to the heterosexual outsider Nick, it is an alien world filled with temptation and danger.

On the flip side, others have said it is a film about female empowerment, with Catherine Trammell as the figurehead of this. Sure, it’s not a wholly positive portrayal of pro-feminism, but it is a sensationalized example of it. Whatever was Verhoven’s actual intent may always remain a mystery, but you can’t blame people for analysing this movie and the two central characters.


Personally, how I feel about this movie changes every time I view it. One day I may see it as this ‘battle of the sexes’ masked as an erotic thriller, others I may see it as a cheap yet entertaining tramp who only looks pretty but is otherwise a boring ride… so to speak. In saying that, I really have nothing new to add to this movie that hasn’t already been said someplace else, but Paul Verhoven is a director who is (in my opinion only) dismissed unfairly just because he tends to exploit the more graphic elements of humans and their world. Okay, his films aren’t ashamed of wallowing in exploitation (hola, ‘Showgirls’), but at the same time, they never feel as if they are done PURELY for sensationalism for they actually have something to say (take a look at ‘Starship Troopers’ and ‘Robocop’- both of them focus on the absurd lengths the propaganda machine goes, the excessiveness of violence in Western culture performed for our entertainment). Verhoven isn’t saying EVERYBODY does it, his films come across as a general statement. In the case of ‘Basic Instinct’, Verhoven is possibly saying that people are too eager to be titillated about the unknown elements of sexuality and turning it into some whacked out adventure rather than focusing on what it really is. Dare I say, ‘Basic Instinct’ is masquerading as a form of arousal in order to make fun of how humans think and act.

Verhoven… you slick Dutch bastard.

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