The Film Snob's guide to Basic Instinct 2.
12:00 AM, Apr 7, 2006 • By SONNY BUNCH
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This review makes frequent use of The Film Snob*s Dictionary. The footnotes below are just a small sample of definitions taken from this deliciously mean book. Buy it today and you'll wonder how you ever watched a Sharon Stone movie without it. -SB
THE ORIGINAL Basic Instinct burst onto the scene just as Ai No Corrida1 and I Am Curious--Yellow2 had before it; full of sex and violence, the Sharon Stone thriller and its plot twists wowed audiences to the tune of $117 million. Now comes Basic Instinct 2, which has been roundly panned by critics and audiences alike. These plebes have clearly missed the point of this meditation on3 the relationship of perception, reality, and sexual violence.
Sharon Stone reprises the role of Catherine Tramell, the antiheroine4 who may or may not have been the killer in the original movie. This ambiguity carries over to the sequel; the audience is never sure exactly which side Tramell is playing. Did she intend to murder the attractive young soccer star in the opening sequence, or was his death an unfortunate accident? Was she ever truly interested in psychotherapy for herself, or did she just want to mess with a young up and coming psychoanalyst's head?
Although the auteur5 behind Basic Instinct, Paul Verhoeven6, did not return for the sequel, it almost feels as though his replacement, Michael Caton-Jones, directed this film as an homage to the Dutch master. Like David Cronenberg7, Verhoeven is known for his films' mind-bending plots: Did the "blue skies on Mars" ending of Total Recall really take place, or was it just a memory implant? Is Starship Troopers a schlocky science-fiction piece, or a serious commentary on Frank Capra's quasi-fascistic "Why We Fight" films? Was Showgirls merely a big budget T & A fest, or is it a damning look at the dehumanizing effects of the Vegas sex industry? Caton-Jones brings the same ambiguity to Basic Instinct 2. Only the final murder takes place onscreen (the shooting of a police officer, which may or may not have been accidental), making it impossible for the audience to judge with any degree of certainty who the real killer is.
The mise-en-scène8 of Basic Instinct 2 is unrelentingly dark; dreary England is the perfect setting for clouded emotions and deviant desires and helps create the needed diegesis9. The film's anamorphic aspect ratio10 really allows one to fully take in the sense of moral decadence. The only notable scene with sunshine comes toward the end of the film, when, after shooting a police officer, Dr. Michael Glass is allowed to stay in a sanitarium instead of being locked away in a prison for the rest of his life. The contrast created by his being kept in an open courtyard, surrounded by nature, as opposed to being locked in an urban jungle and surrounded by concrete, is striking. Having been liberated by the professional rules he had lived by for so long, though that liberation came at the expense of his sanity, he is more free than ever before.