My Nemesis

BasicInstinct2

Most people are lucky enough to not have a nemesis. Chris Neumer is not one of those people. He breaks down his most nefarious archrival here: himself at age 16.

by Chris Neumer

Epiphanies occur for me at the most random times and generally happen under the most unusual circumstances.  While it would seem logical to think that I’d be blessed with a moment of clarity after reading a book on psychology or during a conversation about my childhood with my parents, rare is it the case when this happens.  I was struck by the absolutely preposterousness of this when I came to a realization thanks in part to, of all things, director Michael Caton-Jones’ film Basic Instinct 2.

Inundated with news and interviews surrounding the Basic Instinct sequel, I began to think back to the original, a film I’d seen no less than five times in the theaters when it was released in March of 1992.  It’d been 14 years since I’d seen director Paul Verhoeven’s thriller and, being a little hazy about who the killer was—or wasn’t—I decided to pop one of my five copies of the film into my DVD player (on a side note, I don’t think any title has been released to DVD as many times as Basic Instinct has been.  Between Artisan and Lions Gate, the film has been released on, at my count, five different occasions during the course of the last five years).

Watching Basic Instinct, I was shocked to see what a poorly made film it was.  It wasn’t a ‘whodunit?’ it was a ‘did-she-do-it-or-not?’  This is one of the problems of making a murder mystery with only two suspects in it.  I squinted at the screen as the end credits rolled and asked myself one thing over and over again: how could I have seen this film five times when it came out?  What was wrong with me?  And then it hit me.  Sherlock Holmes has a nemesis in the form of Professor Moriarty.  Superman has Lex Luthor, and Batman actually has a choice of archenemies in The Penguin, The Riddler, The Joker or Catwoman.  Betty’s got Veronica and Seinfeld has Newman.  I’ve got my own archrival: me at age 16.

In February of 1992, I was a junior in high school and was very busy trying to find a college that had a major available in video games and lobbying to get my curfew bumped back an hour or two.  I was 16, had no social skills at all—my first girlfriend had to beg me to kiss her and when I did, I accidentally bit her—and I had a thing for blondes… particularly and preferably those who didn’t wear underwear.  It was then that I learned of a new movie that was coming out called Basic Instinct that was to feature more nudity and lurid, sexually charged violence than any other previously released mainstream film.  To top it off, this new film starred the amazingly beautiful actress who had gotten killed off way too quickly in Total Recall, Sharon Stone… who was blonde and didn’t like wearing underwear.  The problem?  I was a year too young to get into an R-rated movie.  It was like a cruel joke God was playing on me.  I just knew that he was sitting up on a cloud somewhere laughing at me,

To make matters worse, thanks to the multitudes of people who were protesting the extreme sexual content of the film, the casual way Verhoeven approached the movie’s lesbian relationships and the objectification of the female form (from what I recall, the three major reasons I wanted to see Basic Instinct), the theaters were carding anyone who appeared under the age of 25.  No minors would be allowed to see the film, no matter how much it mattered to them.

My priorities all changed at this point in time.  Gone were the days of hanging out in my friends’ basements and melding with the Nintendo, I needed to find some way to get in to see the movie of my lifetime while it was still in theaters.  I tried every trick in The Shifty Teenage Manual.  I told the cashier that I’d forgotten my driver’s license at home, a statement that helped get me into Robo Cop 2 in 1990.  I tried buying tickets to PG movies and sneaking in to the theaters that were showing Basic Instinct and even had older people buy my friends and I tickets to the film and then hand them to us, but to no avail, nothing was working.  In one particularly cruel twist of fate, I asked for a ticket to Basic Instinct, was denied and then was sold a ticket to another R-rated film.

As the film neared the end of its first run, I finally hit pay dirt and scored two tickets to see Basic Instinct at a smaller, independent movie house.  And see it I did.  Again and again.  And again.  And again.  Five times in the span of about three weeks.  I would have seen in more too, but the film was pulled from theaters after my fifth viewing.

I was a man transformed.  I had to figure out new lies to tell my parents about where I was going at night and a completely different set of new lies to tell my girlfriend about why I was seeing the movie so often.  Thankfully, Verhoeven decided to shroud the killer’s identity in one of Hollywood’s all time most unsatisfying conclusions; it was the perfect excuse to feed my unsuspecting paramour.  (As a quick aside: even after five theatrical viewings of Basic Instinct, I still didn’t know who the killer was, so I bought the book version of the movie which shed no new light on the film’s frustrating as the film’s maybe-she-did-maybe-she-didn’t ending).

Sitting in my living room, watching Basic Instinct for the first time in more than a decade, I felt a wave of nostalgia hit me as I heard the first few strings of Jerry Goldsmith’s wondrous score.  I was instantly transported back to high school.  Implicit memories of the excitement I’d experienced while viewing the film were woven into the opening titles and, in a weird way, it was like reliving an old high to watch the film.

Then the movie started… and everything went south.  It’s simply not good.  Like most of Joe Eszterhas’ other scripts there were only two suspects in Basic Instinct, Jeanne Tripplehorn and Sharon Stone, and somehow Eszterhas and Verhoeven managed to even fuck that up.  I’d forgotten, among other things, how many bad decisions Michael Douglas’ character made, how cartoonish Stone’s character was (she actually says to Douglas at one point in time, “My girlfriend died.  Make love to me.”), how homophobic and anti-gay the material was, how staged the action sequences were, how ridiculous the plot was and how crassly Hollywood the production was.  The movie had only two things going for it: 1) Goldsmith’s score is phenomenonal and 2) it is the best kind of glossy.

So I sat in a stunned silence after the movie ended, shocked (or reshocked, as it were) about the lack of any substantive conclusion and positively horrified to think that I had now, officially, watched Basic Instinct no less than six times.

I began to think back to some of my other high school favorites—I listed the Jim Belushi vehicle, Mr. Destiny, as my favorite films up until the fall of 1993—and realized that there weren’t just a few minor differences between me presently and me at 16, there were huge gaping chasms of difference.  While I possess the same DNA as I did then, apparently everything else about me had changed in the meantime.  What’s more, it seemed as though my high school self existed entirely to make my present day self feel awkward and ashamed.  It wasn’t enough that, as a 16-year old I’d lied to those people closest to me, driven more than 25 miles from my home to a theater and spent upwards of $40 to see Basic Instinct, a movie I’d be hard pressed to currently recommend to even the most brain dead teenagers, but I remembered that I’d also once skipped my first period class in order to be at the local music store when it opened so I could buy Mariah Carey’s new CD the day it came out.  Not only that, but I’d asked for (and received) a Yanni CD for my birthday.  I’d bought my girlfriend a T-shirt with a map on it for her birthday and got her a trophy for our two-year anniversary (I told you previously, I had no social skills back then.  Now, I know only too well that trophies for good significant others are best given on Valentine’s Day).

Unfortunately, while Holmes would best Moriarty, Betty might beat Veronica and Superman will nab Lex Luthor, there is no possible victory for me over my nemesis.  He and his strange purchases of rubber grapes, interest in Steven Seagal videos and his unhealthy fascination with Suzanne Somers on Step by Step will always be with me, softly mocking me from his perch atop my high school memories.  At present, I am trying desperately to come to some sort of truce with him, but, as is the case with the most nefarious of nemeses, he is having none of it.  I drop to my knees in front of him, like a dirty accountant in front of a mobster and beg him to let bygones be bygones.  He shakes his head once at me, disgusted, and, proving again what a dirty opponent he is, introduces me to his latest partner in crime: me at age 20.

The gloves are off.

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