There are only a handful of scenes in cinematic history that have stood the test of time and have remained in our collective memory and become a cultural phenomenon in their own right. Possibly the most outrageous and biggest one might be the infamous interrogation scene from Basic Instinct, now receiving a flashy 4K release, in which Catherine Trammell, played deliciously by Sharon Stone in her career-making performance, exposes herself to a room full of male detectives.
It’s a scene that is somehow both incredibly sexy, yet totally distasteful. The shot was achieved without Stone’s knowledge or indeed, consent, although the actress later agreed to keep it in the film as it fit her character. It’s a scene that encapsulates the entire film; horny, but kind of gross. Paul Verhoeven’s classic erotic thriller opened the 1992 Cannes Film Festival and while the genre in itself has all but disappeared, it’s hard not to admire the sheer audacity of Basic Instinct.
A rich and famous former rock star is murdered in cold blood and detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) suspects writer Catherine Trammell to be the killer. Her violent books detail a similar murder, but Trammell proves to be intelligent, cold and attractive. Curran and Trammell engage in an erotic cat-and-mouse -game while the mystery deepens.
By far, Stone’s performance is the reason Verhoeven’s film was so successful and remains one of its only redeeming qualities. Joe Eszterhas’ script is overlong and full of ridiculous dialogue and the plot grows increasingly convoluted. Basic Instinct is also full of plot holes, with the most glaring one being the lack of DNA testing used to solve the murder, but who cares when you have attractive Hollywood stars having a lot of hot sex, right? The many sex scenes seem to try and hide the fact that Basic Instinct eventually has very little to say, but it is still ridiculously entertaining even when it slips into bad taste.
Released in 1992, it was always a possibility that Basic Instinct would age badly and indeed, by 2021 standards, the film comes across as misogynistic and questionable. Curran engages in rough sex with his psychologist and she repeatedly pleads Curran to stop, which he doesn’t, making the incident clearly rape, which is then forgotten and discarded. Trammell is also openly bisexual, yet all her female partners are punished in one way or another and in the end, conforming to a patriarchal, heteronormative relationship. It’s disappointing, but not surprising in a film made by almost entirely by a male production team.
While Trammell seems like a strong female character, openly sexual and intelligent, constantly one-upping the bumbling male detectives, this characterisation is shallow and, in the end, only plays into the male fantasy of such a woman, one that ultimately submits themselves to a man, in the bedroom as well as outside of it. In Basic Instinct, patriarchy and the male gaze remains the equilibrium, the balance which keeps the world turning. While female sexuality has always been something of a taboo in cinema and watching a woman use her sexuality to her gain is refreshing and at times, exciting, Verhoeven’s film still retains a male-focused view. Women are objectified and just because we’re shown a woman openly enjoying sex, it doesn’t make the portrayal a positive one.
But Stone’s performance is still one for the ages. Her dynamic and chemistry with Michael Douglas is undeniably erotic and magnetic. She is in total control in her scenes, drawing the viewer’s eye and all her lines are delivered with such sweet gratification and sensuality, it’s impossible not to fall under her spell. Her performance is bold and impressive and not because of the nudity, but because of how committed Stone is at all times, fully understanding Trammell’s motivations and character.
The new release also includes plenty of new extras, all of them fascinating. The audio commentary by Paul Verhoeven and Jan de Bont is an especially nice treat. Basic Instinct remains a controversial classic in a genre that barely exists anymore. In many ways, it feels like a relic of an old world and style of filmmaking and as such, it’s fascinating. Despite its glaring flaws, it’s a tremendously enjoyable thriller about sex and murder with a killer performance from Sharon Stone.
Basic Instinct is available on 4K UHD Collector’s Edition, Steelbook, Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital on June 14th.