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All connected with the 1987 hit Fatal Attraction come off looking good, thanks to good judgment and some powerhouse acting. As luck would have it, Paramount's tale of a garden-variety extramarital affair gone wrong struck home with a wide range of viewers, despite the lack of a really satisfactory ending. Anyone in a committed relationship will immediately identify with the film's depiction of the emotional and moral consequences of playing around. Helped of course by the attractive stars, writer James Dearden expresses the excitement and danger when two consenting adults break the rules. The horrorshow that follows revisits moralistic melodrama conventions, finishing off with a battle to the death, suburban style.
Fatal Attraction is a prime example of a movie that became a sensation through word-of-mouth. The picture made husbands squirm while examining the rights of the woman scorned. In the two screenings I witnessed, general audiences switched allegiance more than once during the picture. They cheered the early actions of Glenn Close's assertive lover as an expression of outraged female pride. But by the final act, their loyalty had shifted to Anne Archer's wronged wife. The violent climax was celebrated as a purging experience -- a battle between female furies out for blood. I think this was the first time I heard a woman in a movie theater shout back at the screen.
Fatal Attraction begins as a simple story of upscale infidelity. Married attorney Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) crosses paths with book editor Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) on a rainy Manhattan afternoon, and pretty soon they're having lunch and telling each other that they're both adults. A torrid one-night goes wrong when Dan says it's time to go home. Veering between cool self-possession and delirious fits of emotion, Alex cuts her wrists as a ploy to keep Dan from leaving. Alex is unable to accept the notion that she'll no longer "be a part of Dan's life".
Using passive and aggressive brands of psychological blackmail, Alex harasses Dan with phone calls, sudden visits and demands for meetings. Her no-strings seduction turns 180°, becoming, in her estimation, a serious relationship in which Dan is not fulfilling his part of her bargain. Alex reports that she is pregnant and demands to know how Dan will deal with his responsibility in the matter. When he doesn't respond to her satisfaction, Alex makes threatening moves -- contacting Dan's wife Beth (Anne Archer) and even threatening his young daughter Ellen (Ellen Hamilton Latzen).
Dearden's script as directed by Adrian Lyne gives us plenty of hints as to an author's message behind all this, yet never chooses sides (until the final scene, that is). We begin with images of male - female discord. A Nickelodeon TV show pictures a woman being drenched repeatedly in slime. Dan seems slightly neutered by some of his fatherly responsibilities. He consults on a proposed book by a predatory female author who apparently sleeps with politicians. Alex deeply identifies with the opera Madame Butterfly, seeing herself as a tragic figure.
It's easy to pigeonhole Alex Forrest as a harpy from Hell, but that would be a mistake. Alex and Dan meet on more or less equal terms, and it's entirely possible that she at first sees him only as a casual lay. But they also spend time together as lovers, making a personal connection. Dimwit that he is, Dan dismisses the weekend as harmless fun. Alex has already made the commitment to have Dan for her own, and, being an empowered modern woman, isn't about to give up that goal. Dan seems even more foolish when he doesn't recognize that Alex is willing to go to extremes -- even harming herself -- to get her way. Even in a simple discussion about a heart attack, Alex feels she must come out on top -- she must be in control at all times.
Fatal Attraction isn't just about a ba-a-a-d woman: its portrait of a philandering husband is guaranteed to make men uncomfortable. No-fault no-muss sex in our culture is largely a myth, even without resorting to obvious moral arguments. Whether they admit it or not, both men and women seek "significant" relationships. If they feel they're being used, they suffer deep pain and humiliation. For married Dan it's all just an adventure, and he takes Alex's claim of a similar attitude at face value. Why deny one's self a good thing? The beautiful and carefree can delude themselves that nothing matters, as long as they have other companions and fun times to tide them over. But unless they're complete moral and emotional ciphers, the need for loyal companionship catches up to them too.
Of course, most of us will think Dan completely nuts for cheating on Beth, a convincingly wonderful spouse and partner -- he should start each day giving thanks on his knees that she's there.
At a certain point Alex stops being the wronged party and transforms into a definite threat, not just to Dan but to everything we hold dear. We rather expect that Beth should have seen something coming but we're crushed for her when Dan fesses up to his basic betrayal of trust. That's when Fatal Attraction goes all melodramatic-Guignol on us.
Even the film's excesses are handled well. We're in Baby Jane territory when a certain long-eared pet meets an unhappy end. The bubbly bunny clearly stands in for Alex's unborn child, an unappetizing thought. We can't help feel Alex's pain as she sees Dan reacting with his happy family -- wifey Beth has Dan, Ellen and even a pet bunny. Alex has zip.(Spoiler)
Fatal Attraction ends in a bloody combat that pleases audiences but does harm to its story. Dan has surely learned his lesson but the finale places him back on top, with Beth again committed to him and the Wicked Witch of the West Side banished to perdition. Considering the emphasis the movie places on the Gallagher's super-duper new house, the finale plays out like a Family Circle -- approved version of Straw Dogs: we the holders of the property deed and the marriage license will defend our turf to the bitter end. The family that slays together ...
Then again, Beth Gallagher has already been put through the mill imagining what Alex might have done to her young daughter. It seems unfair to criticize her actions in any way.
Audiences were delighted when Beth Gallagher, the film's blameless party, strikes back in defense of hearth and hubby. I should imagine that if I cheated, and if my girlfriend came at me with a Norman Bates Cutlery Special, my wife would still fight on my behalf.  : I sincerely hope. Fatal Attraction's compromised ending isn't exactly the Revenge of the Yuppie Scum, but I'm sure there are viewers who see it that way. 1
The acting is excellent. Glenn Close gives a multi-layered and nuanced portrait of an unstable but not entirely unsympathetic woman. Anne Archer has the best role of her career as the trusting, no-nonsense Beth. Played differently, either or both roles could have sunk the film, and director Lyne rises to the occasion ... little in his previous filmography (Flashdance, Foxes, 9 1/2 Weeks) is pitched at this level of quality. Also to be commended is Michael Kahn's suspense editing. Away from the broad strokes of Spielberg films, he proves he's a versatile and sensitive cutter.
Paramount's Blu-ray of Fatal Attraction really puts a polish on this good-looking audience-pleaser. The cinematography shines, especially with such interesting and attractive people in front of the camera. Audio is good as well in a 5.1 mix -- unfortunately, Maurice Jarre's music score is so unobtrusive, I've yet to remember to listen for it.
A full set of extras is included, beginning with an Adrian Lyne commentary. The featurettes are not in HD and are probably recycled from an older DVD special edition. A making-of piece uses cast and crew interviews while other short subjects cover the film's popularity and its slick visuals. Rehearsal footage is also provided, but the main point of interest will be the original alternate ending, the one reportedly used in Japan. It's just as contrived as the domestic finish but goes in a completely different direction. We understand why a new one was re-shot, to give the audience a feel-good catharsis. The original ending and a theatrical trailer are both offered in HD transfers.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Fatal Attraction Blu-ray rates:
1. The most civilized lesson I've seen against adultery is in the science fiction movie Until the End of the World. A guy has a thoughtless fling, and his steady girlfriend finds out. She understands, and still loves him. But everything has changed because she's no longer capable of trusting him. She calls him broken ladder: their relationship has climbed to a certain point but now a rung on the ladder is missing, and she can't continue.
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