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Film / Basic Instinct

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"And then I come to find out that all of the lesbian sex scenes got cut out of that movie because a test audience was, uh...'turned off' by them. Boy, is my thumb not on the pulse of America... If I had been in that test audience, the only one out front protesting would've been Michael Douglas demanding that his part be put back in!"

Basic Instinct is a 1992 American erotic thriller/neo-noir film, directed by Paul Verhoeven and written by Joe Eszterhas, starring Sharon Stone, Michael Douglas, Jeanne Tripplehorn and George Dzundza.

The film centres around police detective Nick Curran (Douglas), who is put in charge of the investigation of the brutal murder of a wealthy former rock star. Beautiful, seductive and wealthy writer Catherine Tramell (Stone) could be involved; over the course of the investigation, Detective Curran becomes involved in a torrid and intense relationship with the mysterious woman—who turns out to be very dangerous.

It was followed by a sequel, Basic Instinct 2, that was panned by critics and spectacularly bombed at the box office.

Its Signature Scene also spawned its own trope. See "Basic Instinct" Legs-Crossing Parody.


This film provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: This wasn't the first time Michael Douglas played a San Francisco cop.
  • The Alibi: Catherine is accused of committing the same crimes in the same manner as depicted in her book, and she uses it as an Alibi.
  • All Men Are Perverts: What gets Nick into so much trouble.
  • Anti-Hero: The backstory of the film's protagonist, Nick, includes driving his wife to suicide and killing innocent people due to drinking and drug use while on the job. As well, he's verbally abusive to Beth, forces himself on her, and makes a rather homophobic comment to Roxy, "man to man".
  • Anything That Moves: Catherine Tramell.
  • Asshole Victim: Catherine is a monster, yes, but some of her victims are far from innocent. Nick, assuming he becomes a victim, shot two tourists while high on cocaine, he got away with it because Beth is covering for him while he's sleeping with her (and Beth also may have murdered her husband as well, even if there is a serious possibility that it was another try -failed, this time- of Catherine to attain revenge over Beth: killing Beth's husband and leaving some clues to frame Beth), and Roxy killed several young boys after seducing them.
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  • The Bad Guy Wins: Catherine succeeds in falsely leading the police and Nick, the anti-hero, into believing Beth was the killer - and Nick killed her, too. Catherine? She successfully escapes the law and proceeds to have sex with Nick. The last shot hints that she is either about to kill him or intended to kill him but calls it off because she likes having sex with him.
  • Beauty Is Bad: Catherine Tramell.
  • Betty and Veronica: Good girl Beth (whose name is coincidentally, or perhaps deliberately, similar to Betty) and Catherine.
  • Betty and Veronica Switch: Subverted. While Catherine is hardly innocent, it's entirely possible that Beth is a killer too.
  • Black Widow: Catherine. Every one of her love interests ends up dead, whether by her own hand or through her manipulation of the situation. Possibly Beth, regarding her own husband, even if another possibility is that Catherine killed him, trying to frame Beth (and failing), as a first attempt to attain revenge over Beth.
  • Butch Lesbian: Unlike most examples of this trope, Roxy is long-haired and attractive, but she epitomizes it with her unpleasant and menacing demeanor.
  • Car Fu:
    • Roxy first tries to kill Nick by running him over, and then again by playing chicken. She loses.
    • The impromptu car chase that Catherine and Nick engage in shortly after they meet that nearly gets them both killed.
  • The Chessmaster: Catherine Tramell.
  • Chained to a Bed: Catherine Tramell is fond of tying her lovers up to the bedposts with a silk scarf, and sometimes uses it to kill them more easily.
  • Coitus Uninterruptus:
    • The extended cut reveals that the killer continues to have sex with Boz, riding him even as she stabs him with the ice pick.
    • Catherine casually changes her clothes in front of the police detectives sent to escort her to the station for questioning in a show of contempt.
    • A naked Nick has a hostile discussion with Roxy just after having had sex with Catherine as casually as if he were fully clothed.
  • Cold Turkeys Are Everywhere: In this case, it's because of Catherine trying to break down Nick's willpower by tempting him with cigarettes and alcohol, which he's not supposed to be doing since he's on probation.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Roxy in regards to Catherine, threatening to kill Nick if he doesn't leave Catherine alone, then attempting to do so. And either Catherine or Beth is to the other, depending on whose version of events regarding their college fling is true.
  • Date Rape: The first scene of Nick and Beth in her apartment qualifies as this. He aggressively comes on to her, and she enjoys it at first. By the end he forces himself onto her, and she's clearly struggling against him, and at one point flat-out tells him "no". After they're done, she calls him out on that fact that he wasn't making love to her, and angrily tells him to leave.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Nick and Catherine.
  • Death by Sex: The killer's modus operandi.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Catherine again. She manages to make it seem as though Beth is this too.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Catherine is usually barefoot at her house.
  • Downer Ending: Nick clearly doesn't have much longer to live. Gus dies, Beth is framed by Catherine, and is then killed by the man she loved.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Catherine. And Nick, when he's following her.
  • Drunk Driver: Gus gets behind the wheel while he's hammered, even though his partner Nick offers to drive him home. He manages not to get himself killed.
  • Dying Declaration of Love: Beth says this to Nick before she dies from her gunshot wound by him.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Nick is called "Shooter" by a lot of people. It refers to a previous incident in which he accidentally shot and killed a bunch of tourists, which he is still haunted by.
  • Enfant Terrible: Catherine is heavily implied to have murdered her parents, as described in yet another of her books about a boy who kills his parents is the exact same manner that her parents died—their boat exploding.
  • Evil Wears Black: Roxy is usually seen in dark-colored clothes.
  • Experimented in College: Beth dismisses her fling with Catherine as this.
  • Expy: Nick is based on an adrenaline-junkie cop Joe Eszterhas knew when he was a crime reporter in Cleveland.
    • Catherine is believed to have been inspired by Alex Forrest.
  • Fatal Attraction: Most of the drama.
  • Females Are More Innocent: Inverted. All female characters in the film are either sociopathic, homicidal, manipulative, obsessed, or some combinations of the above.
  • Femme Fatale: Catherine is one of the most iconic examples in modern filmmaking. No surprise, seeing as how the entire film is a 90's update on the Film Noir genre. She seduces both men and women to attain her goals, tempts Nick with her emotional vulnerability after Roxy's death, and committed all the murders.
  • Foreshadowing: After talking with Beth, Nick comments to Gus, "She killed him." Misunderstanding, Gus declares: "Beth? Now you've got Beth killing people?" Nick corrects him, saying that he was referring to Catherine, but soon enough, evidence surfaces implying that Beth is indeed involved in the slew of murders that have occurred, even if, of course, it was Catherine who was framing Beth.
  • Four Is Death: When Detective Gus gets into the elevator to meet Beth, he ends up getting stabbed on the 4th Floor.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus:
    • Before the climax of the movie, Nick drops in at Catherine's house and picks up a page of the manuscript of Catherine last book that she's currently printing. He glances at it very briefly, without reading it. If you freeze frame, you can read the page. It's a perfect description of the killing that is going to happen in the next scene.
    • Take a good look at the woman's body in the opening sequence and at Catherine's body during her sex scenes with Nick. Certain physical characteristics will confirm that she's the killer
  • Girl-on-Girl Is Hot: Catherine and Roxy kissing in front of Nick as he leaves her apartment, and again later at the club where both women are shown dancing seductively so that Nick can watch.
  • Gambit Roulette: ... but who cares about the plot?
  • Going Commando: Catherine, most famously in the interrogation scene.
  • Great Way to Go: "Hey, he got off before he got offed!"
  • Honeytrap: Catherine takes men to bed, ties them up and murders them.
  • Homage: To Vertigo. The San Francisco setting, the detective obsessed with his target, and Catherine's outfits and French twist hairstyle are very reminiscent of Kim Novak's.
  • I Just Want to Be You: It's eventually revealed that Beth had an affair with Catherine back in college. Catherine states that Beth got obsessed with her to the point of trying to be like her in every way, even dying her hair blond. When Nick confronts Beth over this, she asserts that it was the other way around: Catherine was obsessed with her.
  • Internal Affairs: The Jerkass detective seen harassing Nick and Beth during the bar scene, who has apparently been on Nick's case since the infamous shooting incident.
  • Ironic Echo: Catherine's interrogation scene, when she snarks about being "charged with smoking", as well as how dumb she would have to be to kill someone exactly as she described in her book, is revisited in Nick's, when he makes an identical snark when he lights up a cigarette, then points out how stupid he would have to be to kill the Internal Affairs detective after arguing with him in full view of a police station full of witnesses.
  • Ironic Name: Catherine means 'pure'.
  • Karma Houdini: Catherine Tramell successfully shifts the blame for the murders to Beth, and gets away with her crimes.
  • Lie Detector: During Catherine's interrogation at the station, she offers to take a polygraph test, which seems to confirm that she's innocent. Nick counters that she simply manipulated the results, because he knows people who have done it before—not mentioning that he's talking about himself.
  • Light Is Not Good: The thoroughly evil Catherine consistently wears white, beige, or cream-colored clothing, along with being a blonde.
  • Meaningful Name / Shout-Out: A "trammell" is a Scottish death shroud, but this is unintentional as the character was named for baseball player Alan Trammell.
  • Mirror Scare: After Nick has had sex with Catherine, he walks over to the bathroom and splashes some water on his face. When he looks up, the mirror reveals that Catherine's jealous girlfriend Roxy is standing behind him.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Catherine is a crime novelist. And a particularly manipulative and genre savvy one at that; by the end of the film it's revealed that she set up almost every event to emulate her own book.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Nick and Gus try to trip up Roxy and Catherine with this when they try to harp on the fact that both women already know that Johnny Boz was murdered without them having been told, but it fails miserably in both cases when both women point out that it's the obvious conclusion to come to, as the men have already identified themselves as homicide detectives. As well, Roxy could have easily called Catherine after the cops left her house and warned her that they were on their way.
  • Noodle Incident: The death of Catherine's fiance Manny Vasquez. Despite the fact that it happened in the boxing ring, in full view of hundreds of spectators, it's implied she had something to do with this too.
  • "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: Nick's attitude towards Beth after he forced himself onto her.
  • Not So Different: When Nick asks Beth how she knows so much about Catherine still unaware of their previous relationship, Beth claims that she knows the type because she's a psychologist. Nick points out that as a practicing psychologist (Catherine majored in it in college but presumably did not pursue it further), Beth is probably even better at manipulating people.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Averted when Nick shoots Beth. She's hit in the shoulder, but bleeds out within minutes.
  • Only Bad Guys Call Their Lawyers: As the cops prepare to take Catherine to the station for questioning, she is asked several times if she wants an attorney present. She brushes off the suggestion, saying she doesn't need one. Earlier, she refuses to come to the station with them, knowing that she doesn't have to unless she's under arrest. It's clear that she's guilty as sin, she's just making a show of trying to appear assured of her ability to get away with it.
  • Out with a Bang: The movie opens with a woman murdering her partner during sex. With an ice pick. Ouch.
  • Phallic Weapon: The also-infamous ice pick. The fact that it's used during sex emphasizes this.
  • Psycho Lesbian: Roxy.
  • Psycho Psychologist: Catherine successfully convinces Nick that Beth is this trope. Ironically, Catherine herself is noted in the film to fit this trope to some extent since she uses her knowledge of psychology to manipulate others, although she never became a practicing therapist or studied it at the graduate level.
  • Retargeted Lust: Having been thoroughly taunted and titillated by Catherine, Nick later forces himself on Beth. There's a similar scene in the sequel with Dr. Michael Glass (Catherine's psychologist) and his girlfriend.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Catherine Trammell killed her parents and wrote a book based on the incident.
  • The Sociopath: Catherine Tramell is a rare example of a female sociopath in popular culture. A charismatic, seductive, narcissistic author, Femme Fatale, pathological liar and Serial Killer, she manipulates and causes the deaths of nearly everyone in the story, including many of her lovers and her own parents, largely for her own personal gain, amusement and to inspire her novels with no real remorse whatsoever. She is even described as such by multiple characters in the films.
  • Stealth Parody: In his book The Devil's Guide to Hollywood, screenwriter Joe Eszterhas states essentially that he conceived and wrote this film in 13 days as a cynical exercise in creating the Lowest Common Denominator screenplay possible. So he could get back his record of being the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood. And he succeeded.
  • Theme Serial Killer: A woman kills a retired rock 'n roll star during sex, in the exact same way that a rich novelist named Catherine Tramell described in one of her books. When the police suspect her, she points out how stupid she would be if she were to write it down in her book first. Eventually they find the culprit: police psychologist Beth, an old flame of Nick, who was obsessed with Catherine. Then the last shot reveals Catherine as the real killer, making this an inversion.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Nick goes after Catherine despite all the obvious hints that she's dangerous. She even flat-out tells him that she is writing a story about an Anti-Hero detective who falls for the wrong woman, and that the women kills the detective. Nick's partner Gus calls him out on it in-story. Nick is either about to be killed in the last scene or survives in the end is because Catherine had a last-minute change of heart about killing him. If you count the sequel as part of the same story, she killed him.
    • Beth getting herself shot by Nick. Despite the fact that he's clearly agitated and pointing a gun at her, she puts her hand into her pocket and refuses to remove it even as he orders her to. As it turns out, she wasn't armed, but he had no way of knowing that, and given the circumstances, reacted the way any cop would. It's either idiocy, or just thinking that he loves her too much to shoot her.
  • The Unfair Sex: Averted. Catherine is a sociopath, Roxy is a Psycho Lesbian, Hazel Dobkins killed her husband and children and Beth has a intercourse with a policeman who shot and killed two tourists while he was under the effects of some drugs he had taken and that she is supposed to evaluate. In fact the number of evil females led to accusations of misogyny.
  • Unrated Edition: The movie that put the trope into the mainstream.
  • The Un-Reveal: Who committed each of the murders - Johnny Boz, Nilsen, Noah Goldstein (the college counsellor), Gus, Beth's husband - in the film? Was there only 1 killer? Why was Nilsen investigating Beth? Did Catherine truly have feelings for Roxy or Nick or was it all an act as part of her game? Does Catherine kill Nick after the last scene? The sequel implies she does. Camille Paglia correctly said in her audio commentary of the film that it ended on a big question mark.
  • The Vamp: While much of Catherine's character is open to interpretation, there's no denying how easily she manipulates everyone around her (especially by seducing them) to get what she wants.
  • Villain Has a Point: Catherine's quite rude when she refuses to go to the police station with the cops, telling them to "get the fuck out of here", but she's right—if she's not under arrest, she doesn't have to, they have no warrant, and she's under no obligations to answer questions either way.
  • Writing About Your Crime: Catherine is a suspect because she wrote a novel depicting a very similar crime to Boz's murder. In fact, she had killed Johnny Boz, and several before him, using the same modus operandi.


Example of: