Two gorgeous lead actors? Check. One fifth of Duran Duran doing the title song for the soundtrack? Check. A director who shot one of the highest grossing films of the 1980s behind the camera? Check. Whilst neither a commercial or critical success in America when released in 1986, Nine 1/2 Weeks would go on to be a huge hit internationally and attract a large fan base on video. Well known for its sadomasochistic content, the film charts the duration of a relationship between John Gray (a once gorgeous Mickey Rourke) and Elizabeth McGraw (Kim Basinger, also equally beautiful) from its initial flirtations to its eventual emotional breakdown.
John and Elizabeth’s relationship is instantly built on lust and attraction. The two characters meet when John introduces himself after a series of exchanged glances and flirtatious smiles. After having dinner, the two spend more time together which culminates in their first ‘game’; John blindfolds Elizabeth. Whilst she seems somewhat scared, she reluctantly agrees and following some play time with an ice-cube, she becomes excited by it. Over time, the ‘games’ continue and Elizabeth is pushed further and further to her limit, initially being weary yet gradually becoming more aroused by the power that John has over her. Over the course of the relationship Elizabeth realises that it has completely taken hold of her life and after one climatic night in which she tries to challenge John’s position, she leaves him, ending their affair.
John Gray (Mickey Rourke) and Elizabeth McGraw (Kim Basinger)
Admittedly, there’s not an awful lot going on in Nine 1/2 Weeks in terms of plot and narrative. Instead the film serves as a character study of the two leads, played extremely well by both Rourke and Basinger. The appeal of the film is to show the ‘kink’ in sex that ‘normal’ people can have. Think of how many films you have seen in which power play and forms of sadomasochism have been reserved for characters who were deviant; rapists, criminals, murderers etc. Lyne’s film showed that sex is subjective and shouldn’t always be applied to stereotypes. Both McGraw and Gray are ‘normal’, like the average audience watching the film, therefore showing the viewers a more believable approach to the beginnings of sexual relationships and how power play can develop.
Rourke is gorgeous and almost unrecognisable compared to how he looks now, the subsequent years he spent trying to graft a boxing career after the film was shot having taken its toll on his appearance. He downplays the role of John very well, subtle hints of sinister sadism only noticeable upon further viewings showing some depth to Gray’s role as the dominant one. Despite his good performance, Rourke is ultimately upstaged by Basinger. She is completely believable as the unsure woman holding herself back, her nervousness and coy attitude mirroring the audience’s as she, alongside us, tries to work out what type of person John really is. Basinger’s growth and development throughout the duration of the film feels entirely natural, her steadily growing tolerance of John’s behaviour and how much she grows to be excited by it being one of Hollywood’s more ‘truthful’ approaches in depicting sexual relationships on-screen.
Nine 1/2 Weeks was released during the AIDS paranoia of the 1980s and was a good example of showing that sadomasochism, regularly linked negatively to homosexuality, also existed between heterosexual couples. The film also has a strong message in showing that people need to take responsibility for their behaviour and actions in sexual relationships. The ending of the film is somewhat downbeat. John finally opens up and tells Elizabeth that he loves her after she has walked away. Whilst he thinks she’ll come back to him, the audience knows that she won’t, his actions and hold over her proving too much with nothing to weigh it up against. John knows enough about Elizabeth to know what she’s like and how she’ll respond to him, but she knows nothing about him, only the dominance that he shows.
That aside, Nine 1/2 Weeks is ultimately a film made to show ‘good girls’ that being ‘bad’ can be so much fun. Who doesn’t like dressing up, having sex outside, playing with the bodie’s senses during sex and having some downright dirty fun with food? Honey has never been the same for me since…