I know, I know. I need to have more negative reviews here, but I can’t help it. It certainly is more fun to trash films than it is to praise them, but I’ve been watching a string of great films lately with my wife and it’s been a last to watch such fine and varied cinema. Just wait until my string of Kurosawa, Fellini, Scorsese, etc. reviews come.
Anyway, enough babbling. Fatal Attraction is a stunning psychological thriller backed by great performances and a true sense of escalating tension and fear. The 1987 film is simple enough. It follows a married man (Michael Douglas) who has an affair with a woman (Glenn Close) on a weekend when his wife (Anne Archer) is out of town. The mistake becomes very quickly out of control as the woman’s obsession becomes dangerous and threatening.
Glenn Close plays Alex Forest, an editor from a publishing company. Michael Douglas plays Dan Gallagher, a happily married attorney. The two meet during a weekend when Gallagher’s wife, Beth (Archer), and his daughter are out of town. They have a few physical encounters, but Alex starts to become rather “clingy” to put it lightly. The phone calls start coming at all hours of the night, she starts to threaten him and begins to stalk him. The tension escalates as Alex becomes more bold and more desperate to hold on to Gallagher, despite his unwillingness to continue any sort of relationship with her. Alex eventually goes to extremes and even “kidnaps” the Gallagher’s daughter for an afternoon at the fair.
The key components to the film that make it work wonderfully well are the tension and the actual fear of this situation happening. A married man’s indiscretion is placed under fire here, as Fatal Attraction works as a satisfying cautionary tale to couples everywhere. The film became a highly influential work, providing the blueprint for many crazed stalker films that were based around relationship indiscretion and infidelity. The film’s contextual value is immense, as much of what is shocking in 1987 is still shocking in today’s work and works especially well in the film’s thrilling context. This makes for some legitimate scares and chills, as we relate to both characters and we start to pick sides….right up until the “bunny boiler” scene, of course. Then, all bets are off.
Glenn Close is the real star here. Douglas is great, but he really is second fiddle to Close and her weaving of psychosis through the depth of Alex Forest. Alex is absurd and yet identifiable as the woman scorned. Close plays with depth, timing and escalating insanity as we watch a reasoned approach to losing a love (or a lust) manipulated back and forth between extreme reactions such as self-mutilation to reasoned reactions such as soft sobbing. With the help of director Adrian Lyne (Foxes, Flashdance, Indecent Proposal), Close is able to manipulate the audience through the gamut of emotional responses. We feel sorry for her one minute and we hate her the next.
Many people critique the element of the affair between Forest and Gallagher as being unrealistic, given that Gallagher appears happy with his marriage. This is simply not the case, as Gallagher’s marriage only picks up after the affair is “over”. Gallagher’s plunge into the quick fling is understood and compelled by notions of his being left out of many things, including an evening of supposed sex with his wife when his young daughter ends up in bed with them. It appears that Gallagher’s marriage to Beth has become “normal”, so he seeks out something else. When Gallagher and Forest begin their affair, it is brazen and risky. He strips her in an elevator and they have sex on the side of a sink. It is a burst of passion and of impulse on his behalf, as his “normal life” is cast aside in a moment of heated compulsion. The affair is completely within the realms of understandable action and makes sense in the context of Gallagher’s marriage. One is further compelled to think that Gallagher’s return to his wife and his attempts at being suddenly intimate and physically affectionate come as a way of “making up” the affair to himself and glossing it over with affection for the one he loves.
It is a film that has sparked discussion and delicious debate. Was Glenn Close’s character really all that bad? Were her actions understandable and even worthy of empathy? Was Gallagher all that bad? Is he an innocent man? Was Alex Forest really pregnant? A good film satisfies you, but it leaves room for discussion and debate. Fatal Attraction is a film that had audiences talking long after it was over and provided thrills that remained in the minds of viewers for weeks. It is a classic thriller that provokes, engages and chills with its natural realism, excellent performances and compelling script.