On the other side of drinks, dinner and a one night stand, lies a terrifying love story.
Modern audiences might find it hard to understand why this film was such a hit in the late 1980s, but that’s to be expected since so many subsequent movies have imitated Fatal Attraction, not least its sensational ending. How ironic then that it is itself essentially an imitation of Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty for Me (1971). Still, the film was so successful it spawned academic debates and Glenn Close claims she still has men telling her that she was so intimidating that she prevented them from cheating on their wives.
New York attorney Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) is happily married to Beth (Anne Archer) and they have a daughter together, Ellen (Ellen Hamilton Latzen). Dan meets Alex Forrest (Close) at a party; she’s an editor from a publishing company and they keep running into each other. When Beth takes Ellen to visit her parents over a weekend, Dan finds an opportunity to meet Alex and they spend two days together. When he tells her that their weekend of sex and fun is over and that he needs to get back to his family, Alex refuses to accept it. She cuts her wrists, forcing Dan to stay for a few more hours to make sure that she’s OK. When Dan finally leaves Alex’s apartment and reunites with his family, he’s hoping that this is the end of the affair. However, Dan soon realizes that Alex has no intention of letting things go. She keeps calling him, at the office as well as his home, and forces him to meet with her again. Then she tells him that she’s pregnant and won’t relent until he “acknowledges his responsibilities”.
Much fodder for discussion
Director Adrian Lyne enjoys portraying passionate sex; his previous film was Nine ½ Weeks (1986). This one has its share of that, but it isn’t the most important ingredient. There is indeed much fodder for discussion in this film. The way Lyne uses colors and what they signify (Alex’s apartment is all white, but she’s hardly an innocent woman); the responsibilities of Dan (he is portrayed as a victim in most scenes, but his infidelity is of a ruthless kind; he never thinks twice); and the behavior of Alex (she is a strong woman who takes charge, but turns out to be psychotic; she has often been described as a perfect example of a person suffering from borderline personality disorder). The ending has been much criticized, and the alternative version is more creative… but when we’ve reached that point in the film it’s easy to understand why taking the simple way out is attractive; we demand punishment. Of course, this is Close’s most famous performance (and one of her best); she makes you realize how easily one could fall into that trap. Douglas is also good as the cheating husband who gets the scare of his life; this was a type of character he was destined to repeat in Basic Instinct (1992) and Disclosure (1994).
Audiences came out of the theater reeling from watching Alex’s now-classic treatment of Ellen’s bunny. They may have known from before that the dating jungle can be dangerous. This film made them realize that protecting oneself may include other weapons besides condoms.
Fatal Attraction 1987-U.S. 119 min. Color. Produced by Stanley R. Jaffe, Sherry Lansing. Directed by Adrian Lyne. Screenplay: James Dearden. Editing: Michael Kahn, Peter E. Berger. Cast: Michael Douglas (Dan Gallagher), Glenn Close (Alex Forrest), Anne Archer (Beth Gallagher), Ellen Hamilton Latzen, Stuart Pankin, Ellen Foley.
Trivia: Based on a short film written and directed by Dearden, Diversion. Also available on DVD is the alternative ending that was initially rejected by test audiences. Barbara Hershey and Debra Winger were allegedly considered for the part of Alex; John Carpenter and Brian De Palma for directing duties. Later a stage play.
BAFTA: Best Editing.
Quote: “Well, what am I supposed to do? You won’t answer my calls, you change your number. I mean, I’m not gonna be ignored, Dan!” (Close to Douglas)
Last word: “The bunny was the one thing I had a question about. I took the script to a psychiatrist and said, ‘is this behaviour possible? Could somebody do something like that?’ The answer was yes. Then the character became very interesting to me. I had a huge empathy for that character by the end of the process.” (Close, Daily Mail)