Michael Douglas made two films in 1987 that hit a nerve and captured the prevailing respective cultural sentiments of “Greed is good” and “Sex is dangerous”.
Wall Street (1987) may have won him an Oscar but Fatal Attraction stuck in the public consciousness, cleaning up at the box-office, landing on the front cover of Time and giving birth to the term “bunny boiler”.
In director Adrian Lyne’s jarring thriller, Douglas plays Dan, a married New York attorney who has a one-night stand with Alex (Glenn Close), a sexy colleague.
He cools and wants out, trying to let her down gently, but Alex “will not be ignored” and her behaviour soon turns deadly.
Although by the overblown climax Alex has descended into psycho-bitch territory, the movie is anchored by Close’s portrayal of her as a complex, damaged woman.
She deservedly received an Oscar nomination, as did Anne Archer as Beth, who rises to the occasion and defends her family against the deranged Alex.
Motivation is a flaw in an otherwise excellent script. The filmmakers try to ratchet up the tension by making Dan a loving husband in an effort to make us believe infidelity’s nasty consequences could happen to anyone.
They needn’t have bothered – Lyne’s claustrophobic camera and stunning visuals back up a white-knuckle ride of a plot.
Fatal Attraction had much the same effect on casual sex as Jaws (1975) did on swimming in the 70s. It became a social phenomenon, tapping into 80s sexual paranoia, outraging feminists and making Close the most hated woman in America.
The original ending – in which Alex commits suicide and Dan is arrested for her murder – left test audiences baying for blood. Close fought to retain it but, despite the schlocky “she’s dead . . . no, she’s not!” device used in the final cut, the studio made the right choice.
The original ending still appears in the Japanese release.
Ellen Hamilton Latzen
J J Johnston