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Classic Movie Review: 'Fatal Attraction'

Michael Douglas-Glenn Close Thriller turns 30

By Sean PatrickPublished 7 years ago 4 min read
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Glenn Close attempting to Murder Michael Douglas in Fatal Attraction

Fatal Attraction stars Michael Douglas as a seemingly happy husband to Ann Archer and father to an adorable 6-year-old daughter. So why, if he’s so happy, does he decide to cheat on his wife? This questions comes to consume the mind of Alex (Glenn Close), the woman Douglas’ Dan decides to sleep with one night while his wife and daughter are away visiting family in the suburbs. Alex can’t understand why Dan would choose to sleep with her and then retreat back to his marriage.

That Alex is also mentally unbalanced does not help matters. Moments after Dan attempts to leave Alex for good and return to his normal upper middle-class life, Alex attempts to kill herself and Dan, not wanting anyone to find out about his fling, decides he needs to stay the night again to make sure Alex doesn’t die and thus potentially reveal his infidelity in the process. This is a decision he will come to regret as saving Alex’s life only furthers her obsession with him.

Will Dan get up the courage to tell his wife what he has done? Will he do it before Alex’s unhinged behavior becomes dangerous to Dan’s entire family? These are the questions of a very minor, very forgettable sub-genre of thrillers. And yet, somehow Fatal Attraction became a massive hit in 1987 and remains part of the cultural zeitgeist 30 years later. Actress Glenn Close as recently as the 25th Anniversary of the film’s release was still being told that she’d terrified men who saw the film.

Why? Why this movie? Why Fatal Attraction? What is it about this sleazy genre thriller that has lasted this long? What is it that keeps this film in our pop culture memory? It baffles me because I have seen knock off after knock off after knock off of the Fatal Attraction formula and none of them are any good. Certainly there is something to be said for being an original but shouldn’t the movie be better than this to last this long?

Fatal Attraction is a cheap, sleazy, silly thriller with over the top performances and capable but not outstanding direction. Adrian Lyne is a director obsessed with sexual politics but he doesn’t have much depth to his obsession. Lyne’s style is to ask big questions but not give the questions much weight beyond the plot in progress. The big question of Fatal Attraction is ‘What would you do if you were Dan?’ That’s not a very interesting question. Everything that happens to Dan is his own fault and while Lyne seems to want us to sympathize with him as Alex goes on the attack, it’s almost comical how unsympathetic Dan is.

As for Alex, while Glenn Close invests deeply in the character, she quickly devolves into an over the top horror movie villain. Close is rather glorious at times in her willingness to disregard her dignity but it doesn’t change the fact of how silly her wild-eyed, wild-haired character is. There is no depth to her pain, no soul to her perceived loss. When she flips the switch from sensual to scary the switch never flips back and we never get any sense of an actual human being.

What is Adrian Lyne and writer James Dearden trying to say with Fatal Attraction? Is there some larger point to the film? While I could likely come up with meanings for Alex and Dan’s behaviors, things about the 1980s they represent as characters, etc, I don’t think Fatal Attraction is all that deep. I think the films that came after Fatal Attraction are as close to the original as possible as they are just as empty, meaningless and sexually exploitative as Fatal Attraction, they just didn’t happen to come first as Fatal Attraction seemed to.

There isn’t much to Fatal Attraction beyond its garish, over the top silliness. Neither Alex or Dan is a sympathetic character and while there is some pretension toward a deeper idea in Alex asking Dan why a happily married man strays, the film doesn’t come close to offering an answer. Dan’s infidelity is written off as a ‘whoops, my bad’ scenario. Oh those men, they can’t keep it in their pants, especially when their wife is out of town. Boys will be boys you know. It’s nice to see Dan actually pay a price for his cheating ways but he still seems to get everything he wants in the end with his wife doing most of the suffering and the dirty work of putting an end to matters.

Still, even as I come to close this review I can’t come up with a good answer as to why Fatal Attraction remains such a significant part of our pop culture memory. The movie isn’t very good. The performances are OK, Glenn Close is certainly memorable, but the film quite frankly stinks. Fatal Attraction is both pretentious and silly but not in a fun so bad it’s good way but in an empty, vacuous way that shouldn’t be all that memorable.

Maybe it’s the fact that Hollywood filmmakers can’t seem to forget about Fatal Attraction that has sustained the film’s reputation for 30 years. It seems that every year since Fatal Attraction we’ve gotten some variation on Fatal Attraction featuring a woman becoming obsessed with a man who is in a relationship with another woman and so she goes crazy and tries to destroy his life. Just this year in fact, Katherine Heigl played the Glenn Close role in Unforgettable. In 2016 Jaz Sinclair played a different variation on the same theme in When the Bough Breaks and I could probably find at least one more infidelity themed, women be crazy, thriller for every year since Fatal Attraction was released in 1987.

It’s not that these movies are remarkably successful but maybe just their very existence keeps Fatal Attraction alive in our collective pop memory. That may also explain the positive memories people have of Fatal Attraction as each of these supposed thrillers are so terrible they could only serve to burnish the legend of Fatal Attraction as something more than a silly bit of sleaze. I’m just grasping at straws here but something should explain why our pop culture collective has kept something as silly and mindless as Fatal Attraction lingering in our collective memory.

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About the Creator

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast I am a voting member of the Critics Choice Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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