Basic Instinct Screen 8 articles

Basic Instinct


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  • Possibly the most glittering piece of trash ever to gross $100 million. . . . Verhoeven and Eszterhas bank heavily on the fact that our grossest sensibilities will accept not only gratuitous nudity and gory crime, but the degradation and the literal and figurative rape of the entire female gender. Whatever the proficiency of their individual contributions, none of the participants can fully clear the stenchy air that hangs all over this erratically effective but erotically repulsive picture.

  • Though many years and straight-to-video Shannon Tweed knockoffs have passed, Paul Verhoeven's Basic Instinct retains a special allure, one that can be attributed in large part to the uncrossing of Sharon Stone's legs. Granted, there's much more to the movie than that notorious interrogation scene, but no better example of the film's unique mix of vulgarity and elegance, which brought Old Hollywood into a world of trashy explicitness.

  • Returning to Basic Instinct two decades afterward, I still cannot fully embrace the film's strenuously (deliberately?) awful dialogue, written by Joe Eszterhas, who also scripted Showgirls. But Basic Instinct's sympathies are more complex than they might at first seem: However sinister Sharon Stone's Pacific Heights–dwelling, ice-pick-killing authoress may be, she remains infinitely more appealing than Michael Douglas's overweening detective.

  • Around every character swirls a dangerous storm of arousal, imbuing objects and camerawork and the rhythms of bodies responding to other bodies with cryptic import, a carnal understanding of cinema that demands we see a person first as a wild animal, barely socialized but never fully tamed. Society exists, Verhoeven seems to say, as a desperate hedge against our true natures ever being revealed, but it's always a pipe dream, always a fantasy of control.

  • Amid echoes of Hitchcock and Argento, Verhoeven’s tale of sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll—and blood-sodden icepicks—is lurid and orgasmic. What the film lacks in substance, it makes up for with audaciousness, particularly in Sharon Stone’s brainy, bisexual heiress, Catherine Tramell... Jan De Bont’s camerawork entices onlookers to strew themselves within this web of overzealous, dangerous liaisons—where fantasy and reality don’t seem to exist.

  • Lurid, problematic pulp polished to a gleaming, slippery sheen. Looks like unprotected sex splashed all over a chrome bumper from an old car in a forgotten noir. Sumptuous score, devilish performances, brilliant direction of moronic writing. In directing this overtly offensive (gloriously so) movie, Verhoeven is like the smartest kid in the room who decided to poke a feral animal with a sharp stick and stare it in the eyes while it boycotted his soon-to-be blockbuster.

  • The film is certainly rife with moral and sexual ambiguity; if Verhoeven seems to be upholding certain narrative rules of the classic American noir, he’s simultaneously subverting (even satirizing) others. How often do we get to see a woman like Stone’s Catherine Tramell: free to fuck both men and women as she pleases, (possibly) murder people, successfully publish novels, outsmart the male cop chasing her, and get off scot-free?

  • History might unkindly consider Basic Instinct a film suspended in time, a product of its zeitgeist, marked by its controversies. But if ever there was a Hollywood film that celebrated a genuine spirit of not giving a fuck what people think, this is it.

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