When one approaches a Paul Verhoeven film, they can expect something abrasive, gratuitous and intriguing. While Robocop is arguably his masterpiece, he is more well known for a certain shot of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. While Basic Instinct is certainly not as violent as Robocop it has earned its own place as an unrated film that is whispered about, mentioned by people and not really understood until viewed. Simply knowing the film for the infamous crotch shot is tragic, given that as a whole it is a rather stellar piece of film that is well-acted and envisioned, all be it a bit problematic. It captures passion, paranoia and sadism without a single break and manages to make what is an inconceivably convoluted plot seem probable. Verhoeven knows how to compose, edit and deliver a film in such a way that the viewer becomes engaged with the narrative even when they strongly desire to detach from its presence. Basic Instinct is a crude film in content, but a thing of beauty in composition and certainly serves as a prophetic vision of what the remainder of early 90's cinema would offer, dark dramas with a ironic undertone so sarcastically honest that it seems bizarrely possible in some alternate world of degradation.
The film focuses on a police investigator named Nick Curran (Michael Douglas), who is attempting to reaffirm his place on the force, after falling off the wagon with drugs and alcohol, which led to his accidental murder of innocent bystanders. His return to investigating comes with the horrific death of a fading rock star that has been murder viciously with an ice pick while in the throws of passion. Uncertain about who would kill the seemingly irrelevant man, Nick makes it a point to investigate the man's recent lover Catherine Trammel (Sharon Stone), an author of crime fiction, which seems to eerily reflect her own experiences. With this in mind, Nick is not surprised to discover that Catherine's most recent novel discusses a woman who kills her rock star boyfriend. Nick brings Catherine in for investigation and quickly discovers his insatiable lust for Catherine, a woman who seems to know everything about him, including his dark past. Simultaneously to this, Nick is desperately attempting to deal with his own troubled past with the police forces psychologist Beth Garner (Jeanne Tripplehorn), of whom Nick still has occasional flings. While Nick attempts to reconcile his own past, Catherine leads him by a string making him believe countless stories framing other individuals and assuring her innocence. As the stories grow and Nick loses sense of reality he falls back on his old habits leading him into an even greater layer of insanity. The film spirals into madness only to clear up in the end as the killer is finally revealed, but even this offering is brief as it closes with the possibility that the truly guilty individual remains free, a perfected ending from the ever-brilliant Verhoeven.
The problems within Verhoeven's work do not necessarily come in his portrayals of sexuality or violence, as I have noted on countless occasions within this blog, I am pro violence and sex in films as longs as the means justify the end. The existence of both these elements within Basic Instinct are justified to truly allow the film to visceral, making Nick's slipping into insanity more believable, however, the provocateurs of violence and sex within the are the reason for such contention. The film clearly sides with male egos in its imagery. The threat of insatiable sexual desire and subsequent violent acts are seen as a fatal problem for males. In the now well-known interrogation scene involving Sharon Stone and a cast of sleazy onlooking males, it is clear that her lack of sexual inhibition by choosing to reveal her most lusted after sexual organ, throw the men into a frenzy as they sweat and grunt in arousal. This attraction results in the men quickly snapping at each other and beginning to battle for Catherine's affections, while completely disregarding the fact that she is a very legitimate suspect for murder. Similarly, it is implied that Nick's entire falling out is a direct result of Catherine's influence. While it is clear that Catherine intends to use Nick for her own self-advancement, mostly as inspiration in her newest novel, to blame her for his alcoholism and drug addiction is simply unfair. It suggests that his lack of self-control is inherently tied to women's influence, when it truthfully reflects his own weakness as a human. This entire notion would not be problematic if the film acknowledged this, but as it stand in the films closing, Nick is allowed to escape scratch free both figuratively and literally.
Basic Instinct is one of those films whose reputation precedes it. With that being said, it is well worth watching as it holds a significant place in popular cinema. Owning the film, however, is up to the discretion of the individual, for me it is a rental only.