Genre: Drama and Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 59 min.
Release Date: September 18th, 1987 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Adrian Lyne Actors: Michael Douglas, Glenn Close, Anne Archer, Ellen Latzen, Stuart Pankin, Ellen Foley, Fred Gwynne
ew York publishing firm lawyer Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) and his wife Beth (Anne Archer, in one of her best performances, exuding both quietness and raw emotion) scurry about preparing for a Friday night business gathering, which promotes a peculiar Samurai self-help book. Their 5-year-old (Dan states that she’s 6) toddler Ellen (Ellen Latzen) momentarily gets in the way, but they manage to arrive on time to hobnob with a sea of corporate folks carrying alcoholic beverages. During the event, Dan meets editor Alex Forest (Glenn Close), who shoots daggers at his philandering friend Jimmy (Stuart Pankin).
The following day, Dan runs into Alex yet again, this time in a meeting about the possibility of legal action against an author whose book character seems to be based on a real politician. Afterwards, they cross paths in the rain while hailing a cab, which transitions into a quick drink – and dinner – at a nearby restaurant. “Are you discreet?” asks Alex, as the conversation turns into an opportunity for an affair. When Dan admits that his wife is out of town for the weekend to visit her parents, the two soon rush back to the Gallagher home for sex in the kitchen and then the bedroom. Afterwards, feeling energized, they go dancing at a nightclub.
This initial setup, which doesn’t provide much of an opportunity to show Dan’s displeasure or frustrations with his fixed family life, paints him out to be a wholly unsympathetic figure. It’s an anxiety-ridden scenario, though one that is believable and grounded in reality. When Dan awkwardly lies to his wife, and when Alex attempts to turn their one-night fling into further rendezvouses, everything still fits into a perfectly sensible – though no less morally disappointing – premise.
In the introductory sequences, the relationship drama escalates, but “Fatal Attraction” doesn’t tip its hand. Nowhere in these moments is it evident that things will take a darker turn toward psychological thrills. “Let’s be friends.” On their final night together before Dan has to return to his wife, Alex becomes inconsolably distraught, lashing out at his looming departure from her life, resulting in a tantrum, some insults, and, finally, an attempted suicide. Alex’s attitude shifts so dramatically, her behavior becoming so erratic and violent, that the remainder of the film is stuck in a brilliantly unnerving state of unease; anything is possible when mental stability is called into question.
Amusingly, there’s a brief reprieve from Alex’s mania, not only in a subplot that finds the Gallaghers considering a new home outside the city, but also in Alex turning up at the office to apologize for her hysterics, acting genuinely contrite. But it’s nerve-wrackingly short-lived; she’s soon calling him incessantly, demanding a face-to-face meeting, essentially blackmailing him with various bits of sordid information, stalking him, and ultimately invading his most personal spaces. Despite Dan’s rash decisions and disregard for his family’s security, Alex’s antagonism is potent enough to push him back into the position of a protagonist; a cat-and-mouse game mutates into a mystery about Alex’s past, as well as alternating levels of control and manipulation. In many ways, “Fatal Attraction” works dually as a cautionary tale and commentary on the responsibilities, consequences, and selfishness some men harbor in romantic relationships; and perhaps even as a revenge fantasy against infidelity.
“I’m not going to be ignored, Dan.” Toward the conclusion, domestic disputes and parental complications summon plenty of suspense, along with morbid escalations that outwardly appear as if the stuff that could only exist in movies. But it’s prevailingly approached with the sincerity necessary to make it all feel authentic; save for the horror-movie finale (which, despite being unforgettable, is also something of a misstep), there’s nothing too overblown or exaggerated about this harrowing duel. Even one of its most iconic images (involving a pet rabbit) isn’t so outlandish as to suggest phoniness. The film’s greatest strength is its design around reality; the most convincing movie monsters tend to be human beings – and Close is outstanding as the embodiment of guilt, angst, and rage, stemming from thoughts of abandonment and betrayal (misguided or otherwise). It’s not surprising that “Fatal Attraction” became the highest grossing picture of the year.
– Mike Massie