Released in 1987, Fatal Attraction was the first in a series of movies in which Michael Douglas played a sleazy character caught up in dangerous situations through his lust and weakness. As in Basic Instinct and Disclosure, at times you have to wonder, why are all these beautiful women throwing themselves at Michael Douglas? Anyway, here he plays a seemingly happily married lawyer, Dan Gallagher, who has a brief but passionate affair with an attractive magazine editor, Alex Forrest (Glenn Close). An increasingly guilt-ridden Gallagher tries to call it off, and at first it seems like Alex is happy for them to go their separate ways. But it soon becomes clear that she’s developed a dangerous attachment to Dan, and isn’t prepared to let things end so easily.
Fatal Attraction is an effective drama, and a discomforting portrayal of infidelity. For the most part, events revolve around Gallagher, and the effect all this has on him, with his increasingly desperate attempts to stop his (really nice) wife Beth (Anne Archer) finding out about his affair. In contrast, the portrayal of Alex is relatively simplistic – but that’s not to say she’s without sympathy. Though she comes across as more and more deranged and dangerous, Close invests the character with vulnerability and tragedy. Alex is a single woman with a successful career, and while the film doesn’t explicitly address what that meant in 1980s America, we can fill in the blanks for ourselves. It was a particularly misogynist era, and women who wanted careers generally had to put up with sexual harassment, as well as loneliness: for most, the choice was between a career, or a marriage and family. While things aren’t completely different today, changes in work culture have meant the choice isn’t quite as stark today as it was thirty years ago.
So, the script does make you feel sorry for Alex, and Dan is morally culpable. But Alex’s characterization is still a bit flimsy, and for three quarters of the film there is no exploration of how she’s going about her daily life through all this: it just revolves around her stalking Dan. What’s happened to her successful career? The ending of the film was changed before release – apparently against the wishes of Close – and I can see how the ending as it stands makes things a bit neater, and removes some of the shades of grey that existed up until then. But the film was a massive box office hit so I suppose they found the right ending for audiences at the time.
Today, part of the reason Fatal Attraction is famous is a harrowing scene towards the end featuring a certain family pet, which has entered the popular lexicon. But one of the stars of the film is the Gallagher family Golden Retriever. It’s a beautiful dog with a great personality, who is well used in several scenes throughout the film. It’s clear that someone centrally involved with this movie was a pet-owner who was sensitive to animals and the role they play in a family unit. Here, animals are both literally and symbolically defenseless and innocent, and they’re used to emphasize the sordid and sad nature of the events going on around them.
While this isn’t a perfect film, and it’s quite disturbing at times, it’s certainly worth seeing.