Basic Instinct (1992)
Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage for TIFF’s Flesh + Blood: The Films of Paul Verhoeven which runs from January 24th to April 4th at TIFF Bell Lightbox. For more information on upcoming TIFF film series visit http://tiff.net and follow TIFF on Twitter at @TIFF_NET.
Paul Verhoeven’s American film output established unique stylistic flourishes that would seem alien coming from Hollywood studios as he created visions of strange dystopian capitalist wet-nightmares, gratuitous and superficial sexuality that was deliberately confrontational and highly stylized, and unflinching ultraviolence that exhibited at an outsider’s interpretation of comfortable mainstream sensibilities. Like the American output of Douglas Sirk in the 1950s or F.W. Murnau in the 1920s, Verhoeven’s unique style forged new interpretations of what came before while simultaneously paying homage to the films that influenced his trajectory as a filmmaker. These transplanted masters of cinema came to Hollywood with a well established arsenal of styles and techniques, granting them the expert ability to deconstruct the base elements of Hollywood genre films and contribute new dimensions forged from their unique auteur voices that had been honed in their early filmmaking which was often inspired by Hollywood films in a cycle of complementary influence that created unique and unusual aesthetics and self-referential styles. Basic Instinct is a natural link in the evolutionary chain of the Hollywood thriller, steeped in the intrigue, ambiguity, raw sexuality, and hyper-realistic violence of Verhoeven’s earlier work as shades of The Fourth Man and Turkish Delight combine with unmistakable Hitchcock influences to create something simultaneously familiar and boldly unique.
…Verhoeven’s camera pans and wanders through lavish baroque settings, coming down from a mirror on the ceiling to explore the entangled bodies of lovers engaged in passionate lovemaking as sex and violence collide
Verhoeven’s camera pans and wanders through lavish baroque settings, coming down from a mirror on the ceiling to explore the entangled bodies of lovers engaged in passionate lovemaking as sex and violence collide and the auteur seeks to confront and titillate the audience, granting them visages they secretly desire only to punish them for their natural ignoble voyeurism with orgasmic flashes of bloody ultraviolence. Investigators enter the scene to unravel the salacious murder, wearing the suits of their film-noir predecessors but granted more freedom than noir investigators of old as they joke about the murder victim’s abundant ejaculate that covers the scene of the crime; conversations that would be unheard of in earlier Hollywood genre films but a natural and essential evolution as the psychosexual thriller genre takes its next logical steps.
Verhoeven deliberately uses the human propensity to exaggerate what it perceives in moments of shock to give the film notoriety, cementing the film’s place in popular culture with the infamous throwaway shot of Sharon Stone uncrossing her legs during a police interrogation.
It is largely through dialogue that Basic Instinct exudes the gratuitous sexuality for which it is known, giving the imagination fodder to retroactively see more than was actually there like Hitchcock’s minimalistic violence that left one believing that they saw the knife penetrate the porcelain flesh of Janet Leigh in Psycho. Verhoeven deliberately uses the human propensity to exaggerate what it perceives in moments of shock to give the film notoriety, cementing the film’s place in popular culture with the infamous throwaway shot of Sharon Stone uncrossing her legs during a police interrogation. The attention given to this inconsequential moment at the time of the film’s release revealed a ridiculous and illogical cultural immaturity as a brief and barely visible moment of celebrity nudity transformed the film into a cultural phenomenon. Nudity constitutes a small percentage of the film’s total runtime but one would think the film was borderline pornographic based on its fascinating and revealing reputation.
Verhoeven uses these moments knowing the power they will possess despite having filmed more graphic material in the past as his work transforms into a meta-contextual commentary on the inevitable response the scenes will elicit from an immature populace with strange fears and illogical fixations. Scenes that are graphically sexual in nature are not there to tantalize and seem deliberately forced, particularly as we cut away from the natural flow of a scene to give Sharon Stone’s vagina a contrived moment in the spotlight and in mere seconds erode the film’s numerous merits and transform the audience into tittering adolescents. Verhoeven knew exactly what he was doing as he expertly constructed Basic Instinct within the confines of the Hollywood thriller genre while granting it infamy with an updated version of Hitchcock’s shower scene, possibly bemused by the silliness of it all knowing the power of such an inconsequential moment would overshadow the rest of the film but leaving it in to relish in its meta-contextual implications.
[notification type="star"]78/100 ~ GOOD. Basic Instinct combines the ambiguity, raw sexuality, and hyper-realistic violence of Verhoeven’s earlier with unmistakable Hitchcock influences to create something simultaneously familiar and boldly unique.[/notification]