Film reviews and more since 2009

Nine ½ Weeks (1986) review

Dir. Adrian Lyne

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★½

Imagine this, if you will. Two polar opposite strangers just happen to meet at a grocery store. He is a Wall Street trader, played by Mickey Rourke. She is a SoHo art gallery assistant played by Kim Basinger. He’s used to holding great power and control with his line of work, and he can tell that she is comparatively skittish. So he begins putting her through a series of sexual experiments to break her out of her comfort zone. At first, she enjoys such exhibitionist tendencies, like masturbating at her desk. But eventually, he becomes more controlling, even abusive. It’s during this escalation and discomfort that she realizes that outside of his proclivity for sexual conquests, she knows nothing at all about this man.

The characters are John and Elizabeth and the movie is Nine ½ Weeks (there’s some discrepancy on whether the word “nine” in the title is spelled out or if it is in fact a numeric digit — I settled with the one on the opening title card). Directed by Adrian Lyne — the movie he did between Flashdance and Fatal Attraction, both monstrously successful genre classics — it was the birth of his foray and subsequent career in the erotic thriller space. This one came in the genre’s infancy (at least by name in America). Seeing it in a dark theater in 1986 with a plethora of strangers, I can easily see it having greater impact.

However, it’s 2022. Viewing Nine ½ Weeks is not nearly the same experience. Sex has become commonplace in American cinema. It had even been better depicted and more engaging than before the film’s existence. Today, it plays like something seen on Cinemax after the witching hour circa 2002. And being that Rourke and Basinger’s characters are merely archetypes, there’s not much to latch onto in the realm of humanization.

For example, Rourke’s John is remembered, if at all, for his sexcapades as opposed to his personality. In the movie’s most famous scene, John blindfolds Elizabeth and feeds her a wide assortment of foods. Different tastes, textures, and flavors grace her palette, the element of surprise contributing mightily to her arousal. It’s a well-done, intriguingly framed sequence, but like most in Nine ½ Weeks, it doesn’t tell us much about the characters. The trio of writers simply affirm the framework of John and Elizabeth: he’s dominant while she’s submissive, he desires control, she sometimes refutes but works her way back into his arms, remaining powerless.

Where the film might’ve been better is with a slight reversal. John and Elizabeth would retain their occupations. But John, forced to make all the big decisions on Wall Street, craved being submissive and forced into following orders. Elizabeth, in turn, could be a gallery assistant desiring more authority. Cue them meeting in a Chinese grocery store.

But trying to expect cutting-edge gender politics from a trendsetting 80s erotic thriller is a fruitless task. Nine ½ Weeks is a serviceable albeit unremarkable effort from Lyne. Conversely, it paved the way for Jacob’s Ladder, Lolita, and of course Fatal Attraction. One could argue there wouldn’t be Fatal Attraction without Nine ½ Weeks. In the grand scheme, it’s not a long layover anyway, and the destination was worth it.

NOTE: Nine ½ Weeks is available to rent on multiple different streaming platforms.

My review of Deep Water
My review of Fatal Attraction
My review of Flashdance
My review of Foxes
My review of Indecent Proposal
My review of Jacob’s Ladder
My review of Lolita (1997)
My review of Unfaithful

Starring: Mickey Rourke, Kim Basinger, Margaret Whitton, David Margulies, and Christine Baranski. Directed by: Adrian Lyne.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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