Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) works in publishing, and does very well, though hitherto not well enough to move out of New York City and into the suburbs. All that is about to change, however, as he and his wife Beth (Anne Archer) and their young daughter Ellen (Ellen Latzen) are planning the big move soon, they just have to find somewhere that suits them and manage to sell their apartment too. Tonight Dan is taking his wife out, not anywhere too exciting, just another book launch, but his friend Jimmy (Stuart Pankin) will be there and he's always good fun. Once they meet up, Jimmy tries to put the moves on a woman who he doesn’t recognise, but she looks daggers at him; on the other hand, when Dan encounters her at the bar, she's a lot more friendly. Too friendly?
Fatal Attraction was a sensation when it was released, prompting everyone in the world, or so it seemed, to have an opinion on it. Was this the essentially selfish and callous go-getters of the Reagan era getting skewered, hoist by their own petard, or was it actually a knee-jerk reaction to the tide of feminism that had swept the nineteen-seventies and was suffering a backlash in the eighties? The interesting thing about director Adrian Lyne’s approach was that it could very well be both, at least until the highly contentious conclusion which it is well known by now refused to allow one significant character off the hook in its original form, but after test audiences demanded (more) blood, was retooled into a horror flick finale.
The issue was whether Dan was more the victim of an affair with that woman at the bar, Alex Forrest (Glenn Close), when she illustrated obsessive, harmful behaviour, or whether she was the victim of his casual attitude to adultery. Based on James Dearden’s short film of about seven years before, he was originally supposed to be at the helm again until he was ousted and indeed the screenplay was reputed to be much tinkered with by other hands, but whatever they did they would think themselves justified as the film made back its budget many times over and became part of the common parlance, a dreadful warning to men who couldn't keep it in their pants simply because their wives didn't feel like sexual intimacy for a while.
Dan by no means was exonerated, actually he is raked over the coals for his misdemeanour in pretty hysterical fashion, to the point that lives are in danger thanks to Alex's mania. But the criticisms were as much aimed at Fatal Attraction for the reaction it brought out in its audience as the way it wrapped up its thriller plot, tales of cinemagoers yelling "Kill the bitch!" when scenes grew violent not reflecting well upon a society that was in some quarters putting the blame on the woman for not playing ball and letting the fling drop after a couple of days while Beth and Ellen are away house hunting for a weekend. Even today, we are conditioned to regard stalkers as villains to be despised for victimising innocent people, rather than in need of serious professional help and in fact very mentally ill indeed.
Which renders Alex a very conflicted figure in not only eighties cinema, but what came after for Fatal Attraction was very influential, in big, glossy thrillers and smaller budget efforts alike which emphasised the sexual angle to titillate the viewers. Meanwhile, Alex was depicted in a split personality on behalf of the filmmakers, at one scene lonely and suffering dire abandonment issues, in another going too far in seeking Dan's attention to the point of unthinking vengeance. Many picked up on her illustration of madness as being uncomfortably close to the slasher flick bad guys that were still very lucrative at the time, that relentless, won't lie down quality which marked her out as, if not a chainsaw-wielding lunatic out for blood, then at least a murderess in the making. That was not to do down what was a very slick entertainment as far as the production and acting went, yet it was that accomplishment in pushing the audience's suspense buttons that somehow made it worse for those who accused it of reactionary conservatism, even if you could equally see it as a revenge on a whole class of the entitled and self-centred. Music by Maurice Jarre.
Slick, commercial British director whose background in advertising always guarantees a glossy sheen to his films. Made his debut in 1980 with Foxes before scoring big hits with such films as Flashdance, 9 1/2 Weeks, Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal, all of which were controversial at the time but now seem distinctly ordinary. More interesting are Lyne's less obviously commercial projects - the frightening, hallucinatory Jacob's Ladder, a sensitive adaptation of Lolita, and the relationship drama Unfaithful.