It’s weird how popular the “erotic thriller” genre became in the late 80s and early 90s. The combination of highly stylized sex and violence as a mainstream form of artistic expression seems to be at odds with America’s usual puritanical values. Basic Instinct turned Sharon Stone into a household name, but, honestly, she mostly spends a lot of the film naked and let us not forget the movie’s most infamous scene. Don’t get me wrong. I actually think Basic Instinct is a pretty great movie. It just astounds me that this particular genre of film experienced so much commercial success. It seems so European (although with about half of Europe’s subtlety). One of the most famous examples of the genre is 1987’s Fatal Attraction (from erotic thriller mainstay Adrian Lyne), and while it’s not quite a great film, Glenn Close is scary as hell in it and it should make any man think twice about having an affair with a complete stranger.
Dan Gallagher (The American President‘s Michael Douglas) is a successful lawyer, married to the gorgeous Beth (Anne Archer) and has an adorable five year old daughter named Ellen. Dan and Beth are in the process of trying to find a home in the country so they don’t have to raise their daughter in the crowded New York City. One weekend, Beth and Ellen go to look at homes in the country while Dan has to stay in the city to work. There he meets the seductive Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) and the pair share a passionate weekend of love-making. But Dan’s married and loves his wife despite his infidelities, and Dan wants to break it off. But from the get-go, it’s clear that Alex isn’t that willing to let go. When things escalate from Alex ceaselessly phoning Dan’s office to Alex shifting into full blown psychopathy, Dan knows he may have to go to extremes to protect his family.
The film came out in 1987, and the AIDS crisis was really starting to get underway, and it was scaring the hell out of everyone who was having sex on the planet (I say this shit like I was even alive in 1987. Anywho). Consequence free sex was quickly becoming a thing of the past and everyone was terrified that the next person they might have sex with was going to infect them. Perhaps I’m reading way too much into this film, but Fatal Attraction seems like a huge allegory (just with a semi-happy ending) about the paranoia and fears that were destroying the sexual liberation movement. A man has a brief fling with an intelligent and well-to-do women and then it suddenly threatens to destroy his very life. If this movie were made today, maybe I wouldn’t jump to this same conclusion, but for the time that it was released, I don’t see how you can get anything else from the film.
But even if you take away the possibility (more like reality) of the film as an AIDS parable, you’re still left with a morality play on the consequences of infidelity. As far removed from the intellectual polyamory of Woody Allen films like Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Manhattan as humanly possible, Fatal Attraction is a stark warning to men about sticking their dick where it may not belong. In fact, one of the most daring things the film does is that it doesn’t give Dan an obvious excuse to cheat on Beth. She’s gorgeous. Their marriage seems to be in great shape. Other than the usual marital ruts, they seem to be a picture of contentment. But Dan sees the opportunity to spice up his life and takes it. And then the film tortures him and his family for nearly two hours because of that decision. If you watched this film when it was first released and still had affairs, you were a brave, brave man.
Let’s ignore for a second my inability to actually believe that someone would cheat on Anne Archer with Glenn Close and focus on the film’s performances. First off, Glenn Close should have an Academy Award for this movie. The fact that she lost to Cher for the unfuckingbelievably awful Moonstruck has to be one of the worst travesties in Academy Awards history. Her woman scorned ranks among the all-time great crazy women in movies. She’s up there with Natalie Portman in Black Swan and Laura Dern in Inland Empire. When she said, “I’m not going to be ignored, Dan,” I got chills. I was just thankful that her icy stare wasn’t being directed at me. I dated a girl that was bipolar. Obviously, she was much more sane than Alex, but watching Glenn Close’s performance, all I could think about was how well she captures a woman with a clear case of borderline personality disorder.
Ever since my mom made me watch Romancing the Stone as a kid, I’ve always been a big Michael Douglas fan. I don’t think he’s one of Hollywood’s greatest actors or anything, but he’s a great-looking guy (can I say that as a straight man) and he always brings sizzling sexual chemistry to whatever woman he’s paired with on-screen. His on-screen relationship with both Anne Archer and Glenn Close are no exceptions. Clearly Alex is unhinged, but Douglas makes Dan so sexual and so sensitive that you can at least understand why she’d fall for him so quickly (although not why she’d be such a crazy bitch other than the fact that she’s literally insane). Anne Archer was also great as the wife who quickly realizes that her husband may be hiding something from her and finds that she is willing to go to any length to protect him and her daughter.
A random funny aside before I continue this review. I’m actually pretty sure that you can see Glenn Close’s nipples in just about every picture I used for this review. That girl does not believe in brassieres (at least not in this film). Back to the review, Adrian Lyne’s direction is great and he certainly earned his nomination for Best Director at the Academy Awards (though he rightfully lost to Bernardo Bertolucci for The Last Emperor). When the film needs to be steamy and erotic, good lord is it. The sex scene in the loft elevator is a moment of pure genius. And when it needed to be horrifying, it really, really was. The film has the infamous “bunny” sequence and the cross-cutting among the different members of the Gallagher family as they realize what’s about to happen was brilliantly executed.
Fatal Attraction isn’t perfect. It might run a little too long. Sometimes, the banter sequences (which are meant to establish the character of the Gallagher family and their friends) seem a little stale. Maybe there should have been more signs of Alex’s instability before she tries to kill herself early in the film (though it wasn’t really a legitimate suicide attempt). Regardless, Fatal Attraction is a smart and sexy thriller. I’m not sure if I enjoy it as much as Basic Instinct (although I haven’t actually watched it in years), but it’s a movie that I can finally mark off my list of movies that I’ve been meaning to watch for years. And now I know better to sleep with strange women in New York City with a penchant for not wearing a bra.
Final Score: B+