For some reason Michael Douglas has made a career out of portraying flawed men who go after the wrong woman. I don’t know if it says anything about his personal life, but he is very good at it and the best example of this is in Fatal Attraction (1987). A film known for Glenn Close’s psychopathic performance that would give many men second thoughts when considering committing adultery, it is also a hell of pot boiler with many thrills, key of which is the pot boiler moment featuring an unfortunate rabbit.
I first watched Adrian Lyne’s film last week in Lloydminster, Alta., on Netflix, but the ending was spoiled years ago while I was living in South America in 2002. This is what happens when a movie becomes part of pop culture: other movies talk about the good parts because they assume you have seen it already. That was the case with Bridget Jones’ Diary (mom’s choice that movie night), in which poor Bridget watched the end of Fatal Attraction wondering if that would be her fate as well. Apparently Glenn Close’s performance also served as a cautionary tale for single women.
Fortunately, even with the ending spoiled Fatal Attraction is very well executed and beautifully shot. As well-to-do business attorney Dan Gallagher, Michael Douglas comes off as a guy who has it all: a good job, a beautiful wife (Anne Archer) and daughter, a family dog, and soon a brand new home outside of New York City. Yet like many successful people when temptation shows up he chooses to risk it all with an affair. In his defence, it is not something he had planned ahead. He casually meets Alex Forrest (Close) at a party, and then sees her again as part of a business deal. The meeting turns into a coffee break, the coffee break turns into an intimate conversation, which turns into an evening, and eventually segues into steamy elevator sex.
Dan feels the appropriate amount of guilt once the deed is done, but rationalizes it thinking this is a one-time deal and no one needs to know. Unfortunately Alex doesn’t feel the same, far from it. First committing an alarming act when Dan talks about leaving, she slowly begins to turn his life upside down. She insistently calls him at work, then gets starts calling at home, forces him to meet her in public, damages his car, and eventually shows up at his doorstep. This situation is not going to simply go away; it’s going to escalate.
James Dearden’s script treats the situation smartly by having Dan act as realistically as possible. When he believes Alex is becoming dangerous, he goes to the police saying “a friend” is being harassed and asks for advice. However once Alex crosses the line, he comes clean and confesses he is the “friend.” More importantly he confesses to his wife with the expected results. Time to face the music.
Although Douglas is on screen for most of the movie, it is the female leads who received Oscar nominations for their roles and it is easy to see why. Close begins as a professional career woman who would not be out of place running a boardroom. It is very gradually that her behaviour evolves from obsession to total lunacy, while never veering into parody. You believe this is an actual human being with serious mental issues. Anne Archer as the wife also evolves, starting out as a happily married woman who has no idea her world is about to be shattered. However when the crazy hits the fan, she proves if hell has one thing worse than a woman scorned, it’s a mother protecting her family.