The Bi Chick Always Rings Twice: Basic Instinct and Female Sexuality

[Hey, Overthinkers - enjoy this Verhoeverthinking It Week guest post from Diana Barnes-Brown]

When I started the initial Overthinking for my Paul Verhoeven Week Basic Instinct Guest Post, the thought process was more or less as follows:

Michael Douglas + crazy bi chick + Paul Verhoeven = Hollywood hates women! Let the crucifixions begin!

But lots of things are happening in Basic Instinct, and only one of them is misogyny – so why essentialize? Keep reading for a brief rundown of the more interesting plot points, some feminist issues as a jumping off place for (what I hope is) more subtle criticism, and of course the obligatory reference to vagina bugs/Starship Troopers.

Ocean’s 69

The problem with analyzing Basic Instinct from a strictly feminist perspective is this: look closely at the treatment and behavior of any female character in this movie and poof! You have an open and shut case (that’s detective lingo) of vagina phobia and the predictable accompanying feminist and/or queer theory issues of gender identity, patriarchal narratives, and misrepresentation of the oppressed and/or minority group in question.

michael-douglas

These concepts are pretty much the conceptual Rat Pack of feminist and queer theory, and while I happen to agree with the irrefutable math demonstrated in the intro, fleshing out that argument alone in a discussion of this movie would have resulted in nothing more than a feminist Mad Lib. Maybe okay if this were Underthinkingit.com (or a first-year Women’s Studies class at Dartmouth), but not really sufficient here.

And, after having seen other Verhoeven movies, it’s clear that while he has, or maybe just depicts, some extremely screwy ideas about women, he does so in a pretty smart, savvy way that indicates more progressive views than I was initially willing to credit to him.

Basic Instinct, WTF?! (Part 1)

Spoiler alert! A brief and in no way biased summary of key plot points is probably helpful here.

Nick Curran (Michael Douglas), a troubled cop with a troubled past, investigates the case of a former rocker recently found doing his best impression of a colander while tied to a bed frame with a white scarf. Blood’s everywhere, a bloody ice pick is found at the scene, and homeboy is extremely not-alive.

It’s discovered that Catherine Trammel (Sharon Stone), a blonde (this is important!) crime novelist, was the last person seen with him. The cops go to her house, whereupon it becomes clear that:

  1. she likes to say almost as many cuss words as the cops,
  2. she doesn’t much care that Mr. ex-rocker bit it, and
  3. she is all up in Nick’s junk. ALL up in it.

Nick skims Catherine’s book, which is about a woman who stabs her lover to death with an ice pick while having sex with him after tying him to a bed with a white scarf. The cops bring her in for questioning; Nick, Dennis “nice dinosaur” Nedry, and a bunch of other cops interrogate her in sorta rave-y lighting; she denies everything and also shows them her bare ladyparts, inspiring a great deal of occasional music and also almost winning the move a then-dreaded NC-17 rating, despite being nearly indistinguishable (at normal playback speeds, anyway) from nude-tone granny panties due to hair color and lighting issues.

Nick starts an affair with Catherine, even though he thinks she may kinda want to kill him and/or people in general. They have hot sex during which she ties him to the bed with a white scarf and he’s all, “I might get killed but whatevs, for I am detective dangerslut!”

7 Comments on “The Bi Chick Always Rings Twice: Basic Instinct and Female Sexuality”

  1. stokes #

    I remember reading somewhere that the outfits Sharon Stone wears in Basic Instinct are the same ones – in order – that Kim Novak wears in Vertigo. There’s probably a halfway decent film studies paper waiting to be written about Vertigo’s sleazy afterlife in films like Basic Instinct and Body Double.

    And hey, that brings up an interesting question. You imply that you would be a lot more critical of Verhoeven’s attitude towards sexuality and violence if he was American. What’s your read on Brian De Palma?

     
  2. callot #

    Woo feminism! I’m really glad that “Verhoeven Week” has turned out to be “Verhoeven is a Misogynist Week.” Needs to be more feminist philosophy on this site.

     
  3. Matthew Wrather #

    Needs to be fewer sweeping, unsupported generalities on this site. Especially from our own writers.

     
  4. Matthew Wrather #

    Also: Really interesting post, Diana. I’m glad you’re back writing guest articles! Keep it up!

     
  5. Diana #

    Stokes, I would love to see that Kim Novak thing verified, though I’m not sure I have it in me to 1) put myself through Basic Instinct again so soon and 2) do so with a special eye for Sharon Stone’s personal appearance.

    On Brian De Palma I have less to say, mostly because I’m really only familiar with Carrie, Scarface, and the Untouchables — I’ve seen others in pieces or long ago, but my experience is probably too limited to make credible points on the whole of his work. On the issue of being American or not, in many cases where two cultures differ in their approach to sexuality, each culture’s way of doing things can seem pretty nonsensical to the other, sometimes to the point that the other way doesn’t even occur as an alternative. If I had to guess, I’d say that for Verhoeven it probably breaks down to about 1/3 serious issues with women that just kinda creep into his work, 1/3 childlike wonder/total obsession with the very process of making movies to the point that he’s kinda blind to issues that would seem huge to others, and 1/3 intentional satire/criticism that plays straight to most American audiences, including Hollywood decision-makers, but not so much in Europe.

     
  6. Diana #

    Wrather, thanks, it was a lot of fun to write!