By Marc S. Sanders
When Adrian Lyne’s Oscar nominated film hit theatres in 1987, apparently men thought twice about having an extra marital affair. It wasn’t enough that a man could violate the marital bond of commitment. No. Now he could get his loving wife and child killed.
Fatal Attraction works as a great psychological study for its first three quarters of film. Then it slogs its way into a slasher/horror fest of burned bunnies and gutting kitchen knife hysteria. The ending was an insult to the intelligence of everything we had seen before.
An unstable woman who knows she’s destroying a man’s happy home life is doing even worse by destroying herself. Mentally she cannot control what she commits and what she obsesses over. She is ill. This unstable woman is played by Glenn Close, and it is evident that she has done her research in psychopaths. Close is great at simply changing the inflection in her voice. In the beginning of the film, she has a relaxed whisper about herself as she exudes seductiveness.
Later, her tone is sharp, accusatory, patronizing, and intimidating. By the end, a new whisper of a psychotic personality threatens. The role is played by Close as if she is changing from one number to the next on a musical instrument.
The man in this scenario is worse. He gets his rocks off and tries to move on unaware of the collateral damage he leaves the woman with, and beyond presumption of how his break in trust will wreak havoc on his loving wife and young child. His moral crimes are nowhere near as apparent as the obsessed woman’s. At least she has evidence of a psychological symptom. He’s just an ignorant jerk when it comes down to it. Michael Douglas was just right for this role of a very successful lawyer with good looks and brash silliness with his friends and wife, while also being an attentive father. Yet, he’s also good at letting his guard down, foolishly assuming he can put it back up again once his weekend fling is over.
The film really is a duel in the aftermath of adultery. Disturbing phone calls, the demand for contact to stop, the nagging need for ongoing affection. It’s all orchestrated very well. Then, comes the crazy person who boils a bunny to generate a frightful scream from its audience followed by knives and blood and the last minute (SPOILER ALERT) “she’s not really dead” shocker. The delicate nature of a common and sensitive scenario is exploited for sudden jumps and terror.
James Dearden’s screenplay is so well thought out until it is executed desperately for box office returns in its last five minutes. Granted, Dearden had a different ending in mind, more appropriate to earlier references to Madame Butterfly. Hollywood decided to nix that plan and go with a more satisfying comeuppance for the villain, or rather one of the villains. What a shame.
Personal note: I’d seen Fatal Attraction before, but this is the first time I’m watching it in well over 11 years. I could never get myself to watch a late scene in the film where Close’s character takes Douglas’ daughter for a day of fun on a roller coaster. It was too real. Too disturbing. It was too easily done, and as a father it was too nightmarish for me.