“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!”
According to Barry Norman, on BBC’s Film ’87, Fatal Attraction was “the most talked about movie of the year for all manner of reasons”. Consequently, it sits within the 1001 Films to See Before You Die, usurping My Beautiful Laundrette and The Long Good Friday – two established films of the 1980’s – as neither appear in the film-blogger bible. Indeed, whilst Fatal Attraction became a “talked about movie”, it is clear that the set-up – of a man conducting a one-night stand (It’s a weekend but …) affair while his wife and child is out-of-town – will inevitably start tongues wagging. I would argue that the sexist-plot pretends to argue a feminist-opinion … but upon closer inspection, it remains mysogynistic and ignorant and therein lies the discussion. Dialogue, written by James Dearden, spark up the highly-intelligent concept behind the story – but the narrative-by-numbers structure, ultimately stops the film from becoming anything more than a talking-point.
What A Woman…
As a viewer, we stick-close to Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas). Dan is a happily married man with a child, comfortably moving up his lawyer-career ladder before he meets Alex (Glenn Close) and the two seem to be content in agreeing to a one-weekend fling – as Dan’s family (Anne Archer playing his wife) are away at the parents. But Alex wants more from Dan – she calls him at the office; at 2am at his home; she confronts him at his office. Dan desperately wants out – but she continues to seek him by meeting his wife by pretending to be interested in his house; she kidnaps his daughter and kills her pet rabbit. Dan reveals all to his wife, but Alex pursues him further – climaxing in a flailing knife-in-the-bathroom shocker, harking back to Hitchcock’s Psycho.
Considering the perspective we witness the film from, unfortunately Alex – though a top, humanised performance from Glenn Close (owing to arduous research to ensure that she was not a “one-note evil witch”) – is clearly, and definitively, insane. You could assume that, because of her lost sanity, filmmakers could portray Dan as a philandering hsuband – but instead, he seems to attempt the opposite. Jonathan Rosenbaum highlights how prior to Dan’s affair, after walking the dog he returns home to find his daughter comfortably asleep with her mother. She had a bad dream and will therefore spend the night in her parents bed. Poor Dan can’t be intimate with his wife and, as if to pre-plan his affair, it is almost a justification for his actions.
Alex is the sexualised, contract-hired (and therefore temporary) fantasy to men – her madness later on becoming a “moral” to the story. Alex is the fearsome predator, waiting to trap the married man in her web, to women – her madness later on becomes the evidence to support the distrust in her initally. The intelligence in the film is how audiences became so wrapped into this clear good-guy/bad-girl dichotomy, they failed to appreciate the psychological depths the film tapped into. Mark Kermode wrote how “audiences screaming ‘kill the bitch!’ at test screenings of Fatal Attraction … persuaded the film-makers to shoot a new ending in which Glenn Close’s character became the victim of a shooting rather than a suicide, thus destroying whatever internal logic the film may have had.”. Audiences were so-much sold on the good-guy/bad-girl set-up, they couldn’t appreciate the suicide (rooted in reality) closure that should’ve befelled our crazy-in-love seductress.
The complicated position we are in. We are angry with the protaganist as he has risked his entire marriage for satisfying his lustful urges – but we ignore the abuse and disposable-attitude Dan has towards this one-night-stand victim. Indeed, Alex is a human too – and such a disregard for another person cannot be ignored. How fascinating it is as Alex explains how she wishes he wasn’t married – how brutally true she is as she reminds him that his actions were selfish and ignorant of her. Despite this – we cheer on Michael Douglas and support his reactions.
What a Man …
Michael Douglas himself took the role as it was “closer to myself than any part I’ve played before” , and director Adrian Lyne support this “truth” as the film represents “every married man’s nightmare – every married womans nightmare”. Of course, the role does manage to portray a damning portrayal of men and the lust we all fall victim to – but, I would argue, that this is the tone (and perspective) of the entire film.
The wife, Beth, is a good wife who stays at home and prepares dinner for her man as he returns home. He is a lawyer (a respectable well-paid job) in an incredible apartment opposed to the low-rent apartment Alex lives within, whereby sex in the elevator is always on the cards.This framing of a man who is, not only happily married within a nuclear family (the family we see framed in the final shot…), but also financially successful within a close-nit friendship group, also dictates that we look up to him. He truly has it all.
A film containing a popular talking-point is always going to be a success at the box-office – but let’s not kid ourselves. This is a man in a exist world of power and wealth – whereby his attitudes towards women are disposable (in terms of sex) and family-focussed (in terms of the health of his child). Fatal Attraction is a thoroughly enjoyable watch due to a strong concept and a high calibre of actors on show. The conflict of interests is clear in the decision to change the ending. A problematic compromise between intelligent-storytelling and mass-appeal lowest-common-denominator filmmaking is always a tough balance. But then, maybe the only reason the film became so successful 25 years later may be because of that compromise. If the film did not include the shock-ending, it may never have earnt such a large audience – and if it catered to such a broad audience throughout, it would simply sit alongside the erotic-thriller films of the 1980’s. Instead, it remains an interesting snapshot of the time’s attitude towards sex and marriage.