This post includes a character analysis of Catherine Tramell, the main antagonist of Basic Instinct (1992).
Directed by Paul Verhoeven, the 1992 neo-noir thriller stars Sharon Stone as Catherine Tramell. Beware of spoilers.
In “Basic Instinct”, Catherine Tramell is a crime novelist who becomes the prime suspect in a murder. The victim is Johnny Boz, a retired rock star and Catherine’s boyfriend. All the police know is that someone stabbed Johnny to death with an ice pick during sex.
During interrogation, Catherine antagonizes the main detective (Nick Curran) in charge of the murder investigation. She seems to know a lot about him, and the detective himself develops a strong obsession with Catherine. Later on, the two start a torrid but dangerous affair.
As the investigation unravels, more people end up dead. Meanwhile, Nick finds out that Dr. Beth Gardner, his former girlfriend and therapist, dated Catherine during college. When Beth shows up after a brutal murder scene, Nick panics and shoots her. After the therapist’s death, the police find large amounts of evidence implicating Beth in the previous deaths and murders.
When Nick returns home, Catherine is waiting for him. The crime novelist warns the detective that he should stay away from her. However, the latter refuses to listen and pulls Catherine closer. The final scene shows Nick and Catherine having sex while an ice pick is shown under the bed, suggesting that Beth was not the killer.
Note: For those who are interested, here is another article discussing the meaning behind the ending of “Basic Instinct”.
Catherine Tramell Character Analysis in “Basic Instinct”
“Basic Instinct” presents Catherine Tramell as a mysterious and seductive woman. As the murder investigation progresses, the dark nature of the novelist begins to unravel too. It turns out Catherine Tramell is a cold-blooded killer who plans her victims meticulously. Also, she enjoys writing about crimes and violence. In particular, Catherine likes to write about her murders, past and future ones.
In terms of personality, Catherine Tramell is charismatic, smart and witty. She often uses her beauty and female charms to her advantage, making Catherine Tramell a master manipulator of men and women. The crime novelist has a strong fascination for other women who kill. Aside from killing, the novelist finds a great thrill whenever she actually gets away with murder. Catherine finds great pleasure in mind games, especially the dangerous game of cat and mouse she plays with the police.
Catherine Tramell comes from a privileged background. When her parents died in a boating accident, they left her a massive fortune. Since she wrote about their deaths in one of her novels, it’s plausible that she might have had something to do with the accident. Having said that, it’s most likely that Catherine started to commit murders at an early age.
What makes Catherine Tramell such a great villain?
What makes Catherine Tramell a great villain is the dichotomy of her character. On the surface, she is beautiful, rich, sophisticated and successful. All these bright qualities are a heavy contrast to what is really going on in Catherine Tramell’s sick mind. Underneath it all, this woman is capable of the most heinous murders. In a way, Catherine is addicted not only to killing but also to the thrill of getting away with it.
There are times in “Basic Instinct” where Catherine shows her vulnerable side. However, given her nature, those were probably crocodile tears coming from her eyes. All the people that Catherine “loves” are just pawns. The crime novelist uses people to get what she wants. For instance, Catherine used Roxy to hurt Nick. Then she used the latter to kill Beth.
Having a degree in psychology helped Catherine better understand human behaviour and motivations. Catherine is aware that her sexuality is a powerful weapon, and she is not afraid to use it to manipulate people. Another two characteristics that make Catherine a successful pathological liar are her lack of remorse and guilt.
Catherine Tramell and Nick Curran (Relationship Analysis)
The relationship between Catherine Tramell and Nick Curran is problematic and somewhat superficial. Basically, there are no genuine feelings between Catherine and Nick. The crime novelist just sees the detective as a toy and a source of inspiration for her next book. And the latter is just infatuated with Catherine’s beauty and sexual allure.
As mentioned before, Catherine Tramell has a deep fascination for people who kill. That might explain why she likes keeping Nick Curran around. The protagonist of her latest novel is called “Shooter”, and ironically, Nick played his role so well. He did shoot Catherine’s target (Beth) dead.
Catherine Tramell is one of the most iconic female characters of all time. She is one of the few villains in the history of cinema who actually gets away with murder. Despite being a cold-blooded serial killer, Catherine can also be incredibly charming and captivating when she wants to be.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Catherine Tramell is her unapologetic nature. The woman knows that she is bad, yet she has no plans to change her ways. As a matter of fact, Catherine owns her deviant tendencies like no one else. In addition, she becomes increasingly bolder every time she gets away with murder.
Another fascinating aspect of Catherine Tramell is how she uses her sexual allure as a weapon. In a world where women are often preyed upon because of their looks, Catherine sets her own tempo. She uses her beauty, social status, and sensuality to her advantage.
Although Catherine Tramell is the villain in “Basic Instinct”, it’s hard to hate on her. She is an iconic character that elicits both fear and admiration. Catherine Tramell is a “breeze of fresh air” because she defies the “villain archetype”. The woman is smart, beautiful and knows how to get away with murder. Female characters are usually the “victims” in these types of thrillers, but Catherine Tramell is not your average woman. Not only is she not the prey in Basic Instinct, she is the ultimate predator.