Catherine Tramell

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Catherine Tramell
Basic Instinct character
Basic instinct 001.jpg
Sharon Stone as Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct
First appearance Basic Instinct
Last appearance Basic Instinct 2
Portrayed by Sharon Stone
Significant other(s)
  • Nick Curran (Basic Instinct)
  • Michael Glass (Basic Instinct 2)
  • Seducing and manipulating her victims
  • Stabbing murders with an ice pick

Catherine Tramell is a fictional character in the 1992 film Basic Instinct and its sequel, Basic Instinct 2. She is played by Sharon Stone in both films. In Basic Instinct, Tramell is a serial killer and love interest of washed-up detective Nick Curran; Basic Instinct 2 pairs her with the similarly troubled British psychologist Michael Glass.

One European critic defined Catherine Tramell as "a mix between the classic femme fatale and the new psycho killers, one of the most evil characters ever created, on Hannibal Lecter's level". She was nominated to be a member of the American Film Institute's "Best Villains" list. She was also included as one of the best 250 fiction villains ever created. In June 2010, Entertainment Weekly named her one of the 100 Greatest Characters of the Last 20 Years.[1]

Character history[edit]


In Basic Instinct, Catherine Tramell was born on August 10, 1960. In Basic Instinct 2, the year appears to be retconned to 1968, as the film's official website in 2006 gave her age as 38.

Her parents were killed in a boating accident in 1979, leaving her with an inheritance of $110 million. The death parallels one of her novels, The First Time, written years later, in which a boy kills his parents to see "if he could get away with it". It's implied she herself caused the accident.

She double-majored in psychology and literature at University of California, Berkeley, graduating magna cum laude in 1983. During her college years, her counselor Prof. Noah Goldstein was murdered with an ice pick, supposedly giving Catherine the idea for her later novel, Love Hurts. At the time, she also had a one-time sexual encounter with fellow psychology student Lisa Hoberman (later renamed Elizabeth Garner).

She was engaged to a middleweight boxer named Manuel "Manny" Vásquez, who was killed in 1984 during a prizefight in Atlantic City. Openly bisexual, she has many short-lived, empty affairs with people of both sexes, ending when she discards and kills them.

She published best-selling crime novels. It is suggested that the modus operandi of her murders includes using her novels as alibis, as people then assumed she would never be foolish enough to execute a crime she herself wrote about. She also makes a habit of befriending murderers, including Hazel Dobkins, an elderly woman who stabbed her husband and their children to death for no apparent reason, and Roxy, her lesbian lover, who killed her two younger brothers with a razor as a teenager.

Catherine Tramell appears as a brilliant, charismatic narcissist, who manipulates everyone around her, largely for her own amusement and enjoys killing people.

Psychological diagnosis[edit]

In Basic Instinct 2, Tramell is diagnosed by Dr. Michael Glass as possessing a "risk addiction." He explains, "Inside I believe she vacillates between a feeling of god-like omnipotence and a sense that she simply doesn't exist, which of course is intolerable. I believe Ms. Tramell's behavior is driven by what we might call a risk addiction. A compulsive need to prove to herself that she can take risks and survive dangers that other people can't. Especially the subsequent encounters with the police, the powers that be. The greater the risk, the greater the proof of her omnipotence. Her existence really. All addiction is progressive, the addict will always need to take greater and greater risks. I suspect the only limit for her would be her own death."

Glass goes on to describe Tramell as "narcissistic" and a "pathological liar". Various characters throughout Basic Instinct 2 describe her as a psychopath with narcissistic personality disorder. She displays very heavy antisocial and histrionic features and traits.

Basic Instinct[edit]

Basic Instinct establishes Tramell as a successful crime novelist who is connected to the violent stabbing death of a washed up rock musician, Johnny Boz. She is subsequently investigated by San Francisco homicide detectives Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) and Gus Moran (George Dzundza), who learn that Boz died in exactly the same manner as a character in Tramell's most recent novel. Tramell shows little emotion upon hearing of Boz's death and, under questioning by the police, behaves provocatively; in the film's most famous scene, Tramell re-crosses her legs to show that she is not wearing underwear beneath her short skirt.

Curran looks into Tramell's troubled history and links her to the deaths of her parents, her counselor at UC Berkeley, and her former fiancé; she also has a habit of befriending imprisoned murderers. However, when he confronts Tramell, she taunts him with knowledge of his drug addiction. Thinking that Tramell received the confidential information from an adversarial Internal Affairs investigator, Marty Nilsen, a violent Curran gets himself suspended and falls into a drunken stupor. After Nilsen is found dead, he becomes the prime suspect. Curran, increasingly seduced by Tramell, becomes sexually involved with her; she tells him that he will be the basis of the character in her next novel.

A torrid affair between Nick and Catherine begins with the air of a cat-and-mouse game. Nick shows up at a club and witness her sniffing coke in a bathroom stall. Later, they have sex in a bed. And Catherine violently rides him.

Tramell's lesbian lover, Roxy, unsuccessfully attempts to kill Curran and dies in a car crash. Tramell's apparent grief over Roxy's death leads Curran to doubt her guilt. Curran then learns that as a college student, Tramell had a lesbian encounter with Beth Garner, a police psychologist he previously had an affair with. Upon finding the manuscript to Tramell's latest novel, Curran realizes that Moran is in danger; he is too late to stop Moran's apparent murder by Garner, whom he shoots when he thinks she is retrieving a weapon. Evidence collected in Beth's apartment points to her as the killer of Boz, Nilsen, Moran, and her own husband. She is ultimately branded as the killer.

Curran is left confused and dejected, knowing from the manuscript that Tramell was involved in Moran's murder and somehow set up Garner. When he tries to confront her, the two end up making love. During a session of pillow talk, Tramell reaches for something under the bed before abruptly resuming sex. The camera pans below the bed to show Tramell's weapon of choice—an ice pick—showing that she wants to kill Curran.

Basic Instinct 2[edit]

Fifteen years after the events of the first movie, Tramell speeds through London in a sports car with Kevin Franks, an English football player. After taking Franks' hand to masturbate herself and reach climax, Tramell crashes the car into the Thames river and ultimately leaves Franks to drown. When Scotland Yard finds evidence of her culpability in the death, Tramell is made to take therapy sessions with a court-appointed psychologist, Dr. Michael Glass (David Morrissey). At her trial, Glass testifies that Tramell is a narcissist who suffers from a pathological "risk addiction", showing no regard for right or wrong. However, Glass' testimony is deemed insufficient, and Tramell goes free.

Tramell begins playing mind games with Glass, who finds himself becoming both frustrated and increasingly intrigued by her. Eventually, he succumbs to temptation and begins an illicit affair with Tramell. However, following the murder of his ex-wife's partner—a journalist planning to write a negative story about Glass—he suspects that she is trying to frame him for the killing. As more people close to Glass turn up dead, his obsession with Tramell grows to the point where it threatens his career and livelihood. Eventually, Glass himself can no longer tell right from wrong as the police suspect him of involvement in the crimes.

During Glass' confrontation with Tramell, she reveals that her latest novel is based on the present situation, featuring characters based on herself, Glass, and the victims. Tramell suggests that her next victim is Glass' colleague, Dr. Gardosh (Charlotte Rampling). However, this turns out to be a ruse tricking Glass into having a violent confrontation with Gardosh and subsequently shooting Detective Spt. Roy Washburn (David Thewlis), the officer investigating the murders. Glass is subsequently committed to a mental hospital, where Tramell claims that she manipulated him into committing the crimes. A stymied Glass is left to silently rage at his predicament.

Tramell's victims in Basic Instinct[edit]

Prior to and during Basic Instinct, the following people met a violent death, almost all of them killed by Catherine:

Name Identity Method Supposed Motive
Deaths prior to Basic Instinct
Marvin and Elaine Tramell Catherine's parents Boat explosion To see if she could get away with it, inheritance
Noah Goldstein Catherine's college counselor Stabbed with an ice pick Unknown
Manny Vásquez Catherine's fiance Killed in the ring during a (possibly rigged) boxing match N/A
Joseph Garner Elizabeth Garner's husband Shot during a drive-by shooting To get back at Elizabeth
Deaths during Basic Instinct
Johnny Boz Catherine's boyfriend Stabbed with an ice pick during sexual intercourse To copy her novel and give herself an alibi
Roxy Catherine's lesbian lover Car accident while being pursued by Nick N/A
Officer Martin Nilsen SFPD Internal Affairs officer Shot in the head To put Nick in the same situation as her
Gus Moran Nick's partner Stabbed with an ice pick in an elevator Copying her newest book
Elizabeth Garner Her and Nick's former lover Shot by Nick N/A

A potential victim of hers is Nick Curran, who is almost stabbed during the film's final scenes. The ending is ambiguous: either Catherine retires from her criminal career for good or only postpones killing Nick. Incidentally, Nick Curran has disappeared by the second movie. During an interview in Spain, Sharon Stone commented that "poor Nick is dead," implying with a swift stabbing motion that an ice pick was indeed used.

A conversation in Basic Instinct 2 reveals Nick's fate more explicitly. Michael Glass tells Trammell he has spoken to Lieutenant Phil Walker, who appeared in the first film and is dismissed by her summarily with the sentence "Paranoid Phil. Now there's a blast from the past". According to Glass, "He said you murdered a Johnny Boz and two detectives in San Francisco", to which she answers "I was never even charged". Glass finally says "Grand jury said that Nick Curran's girlfriend did it". Only one police detective is killed onscreen in the first movie, Nilsen merely being an Internal Affairs officer. The logical implication seems to be that she murdered Curran.


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