9½ Weeks (1986): Adrian Lyne’s Exploitative Erotic Drama Starring Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger

The new erotic drama, 91/2 Weeks, from Britisher Adrian Lyne, a good commercial director (Fatal Attraction), was eagerly awaited due to its source material and controversial subject matter, not to mention the presence of two popular stars at the time, Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke.

Based on the memoirs of the same name by Elizabeth McNeill, the film centers on a Manhattan art gallery employee who is involved in a brief yet dangerously intense affair with a mysterious Wall Street broker.

Domestic Flop, International Hit

Dismissed by most critics as silly and dull, 91/2 Weeks was a commercial flop, grossing only $7 million at the domestic box-office, against a budget of $17 million.

However the film was a huge success internationally, particularly in Australia, Canada and the UK, making $100 million worldwide, before acquiring a large following on video and then DVD.

Our Grade: D+ (* out of *****)

Sequel and Prequel

In 1997, Anne Goursaud helmed a direct-to-video sequel, starring Mickey Rourke and Angie Everhart.

In 1998, a straight-to-video prequel, The First 9½ Weeks, was made but without any of the original actors.

Detailed Plot

The film’s title alludes to the duration of the affair between Wall Street exec, John Gray (Rourke), and a SoHo art gallery employee Elizabeth McGraw (Basinger), who is a recent divorcee.

In order to test and to push Elizabeth’s sexual and ethical boundaries, John initiates and then controls a series of “experimental” sexual rituals and practices.  Succumbing to his ego and phallus, Elizabeth goes through a gradual downward spiral toward emotional and mental breakdown.

Elizabeth first sees John in China Town, while grocery shopping with her co-worker Molly (Margaret Whitton). She sees him again at a street market in Greenwich Village. John charms her by buying the scarf she couldn’t afford, wrapping it around her.

They start dating, and she is increasingly subjected to John’s peculiar habits of blindfolding, though at first she is reluctant to comply with his sexual fantasies. He continues to court, buying her a gold watch, o that she can think about him.

She then takes his imperative further by masturbating at her workplace at the designated time of 12pm.  John also masterminds an extended erotic food play sequence. However, Elizabeth doesn’t understand his reluctance to meet her friends despite their growing intimacy.

Elizabeth’s confusion increases when, left alone at his flat, she examines the drawers of his well-organized closet, discovering in the process a photo with another woman. Demanding to know if she went through his stuff, John says he would punish her if she violated his trust

Before long, their bond escalates into sexual assault until she concedes to his violent struggle to overpower her. Their sexual intensity grows when they have sex in public places.

Motivated by growing need for psycho-sexual stimulation, Elizabeth stalks John to his office in the Stock Exchange and obeys his command to cross-dress  in men’s corporate attire for a restaurant date.  Upon leaving the place, some men mistake them for a gay couple and shout “Faggot!”  A fight ensues, and Elizabeth picks up the knife of one of their assailants and stabs him in the buttocks; the attackers flee.

Elizabeth and John have hot sex on site, after which John’s sexual games become  sado-masochistic. He buys a horse whip which Elizabeth uses in a striptease sequence for his voyeuristic pleasure.

The cumulative effect of above experiences is to intensify Elizabeth’s sexual dependency and emotional vulnerability. When she sees her ex-husband at her art gallery, her ambivalence about him makes her receptive to John’s message on her answering machine, telling her to meet him at a hotel room. John blindfolds her at the room, and a Hispanic prostitute starts caressing Elizabeth, as John observes them. The prostitute removes Elizabeth’s blindfold and starts working on John. Elizabeth violently intervenes, and flees the hotel

Later, at an adult entertainment venue, John spots her in a crowd of men watching a porn show. She sees John and starts kissing a random man in the crowd. Moments later, John and Elizabeth are tightly interlocked in an intense embrace.

After spending the night at John’s apartment, John realizes he will never see her again. He proceeds to relate details of his life, including revelations about his mother, a grocery store check-out girl.

In the very last, ambiguous scene, Elizabeth states it is too late for such personal trust and leaves the apartment. John begins his usual countdown to 50, hoping she will back before he is done.

One of Year’s Worst Films

The film was nominated for three Golden Rasberries: Worst Actress (Kim Basinger), Worst Song (“I Do What I Do”), and Worst Screenplay.


Mickey Rourke as John Gray

Kim Basinger as Elizabeth McGraw

Margaret Whitton as Molly

David Margulies as Harvey

Christine Baranski as Thea

Karen Young as Sue

William De Acutis as Ted

Dwight Weist as Farnsworth

Roderick Cook as Sinclair, the Critic