When Fatal Attraction was released to theaters in 1987 it became a bit of a cultural phenomenon. It was the movie everyone was talking about at work the next day. Now that the film has been released on Blu-ray the question is whether the film still holds its original impact or is just another catalog title making the transition to a new format. Being only 16 or 17 when I first saw the film on video, a few years after its theatrical run, I was shocked by what I saw. The sex scenes were graphic, and the film was brutal in its depiction of a love affair gone bad. Twenty-two years later the film still packs somewhat of a punch, but suffers due to the rudimentary b-movie storylines.
It’s hard to say why Fatal Attraction became the hit that it did both commercially and critically. The film made tons of money and garnered six Oscar nominations in major categories. Perhaps audiences were intrigued by the notion of rooting for a character who they would normally hate. The plot revolves around Dan Gallagher, who is played by Michael Douglas. He is a man who quite easily makes a decision that he knows could destroy his whole life. He decides to have a one-night stand with career minded executive Alex Forrest, played by Glenn Close. Gallagher is inexplicably drawn to Forrest. In fact all the men at the mutual party they are attending are. Forrest is not a typical knockout, however her confidence gives her a powerful sexiness that was not all that typical in women at that time. Still Gallagher has a pretty and adoring wife (Anne Archer) at home, along with a cute five year daughter. The family is preparing to move out of the hectic city to a nice country home to live a nice family life. The idea that he could give it all up for a night of wild sex on the kitchen counter is a bit perplexing.
It can’t even be said that one thing led to another and the affair “just happened.” Gallagher actually plans the affair while eating dinner with Forrest while his wife and daughter are out of town. She asks him, “are you discreet … I’m discreet.” He decides he can’t pass up this opportunity for no consequences; no strings attached sex and goes for it. But of course it turns out there are consequences and there are strings attached. That is a given, otherwise we would have no movie. One of the strong points about the movie is that it in no way makes Gallagher sympathetic. In fact it goes the opposite direction. After Gallagher and Forrest have their night together, the audience expects Gallagher to go home and deal with whatever comes next. Instead he decides to spend the whole weekend with Forrest, and not just for sex. They become a couple. They romp through park with the Gallagher family dog, she makes dinner for him, and of course there is some more sex. And after all this Gallagher thinks he is going to be able to go home and they both will forget it ever happened.
Is it any surprise that Forrest becomes attached to him? After all they seem to have a lot in common. There was the park, the dinners, it turns out they both love Madame Butterfly. Forrest is devastated. She tries to force him to stay. She slashes her wrists when he doesn’t. It’s at that point we know he will never be rid of her. And we shouldn’t feel sorry for him. He got himself into it. But we do feel sorry for him after he goes home and Forrest becomes a total maniac. She calls, she comes over, she threatens the daughter and she boils a defenseless bunny rabbit. How can we forgive her after that?
And there is where the controversy and phenomenon started. Women’s groups were horrified that the career woman was demonized into a horrible monster while the housewife was good and virtuous. They were horrified that audiences were asked to root for a philandering husband while the successful woman is overtaken by severe mental illness. It’s hard to say if they really had a point. It’s true that the movie portrays these characters this way, but it can’t really be said that Alex Forrest was meant to be a representation of working women. It would be a stretch to say Fatal Attraction is a anti-women’s lib film meant to keep women at home instead of rising to power in the workplace.
The story as a whole is entertaining but threadbare on true impact. It’s hard to believe Forrest has risen to such a success in her career given her obvious psychological problems, unless we are to believe she was a ticking time bomb. That she was completely sane until that last straw that broke the camel’s back. So what we’re left with is a fairly conventional thriller with good decent acting and several exciting scenes. Archer gives her character the most gravity. Her instantaneous conversion, as her husband reveals his infidelity, from a loving wife to a scorned woman is one of the best scenes in the film. Its subtlety and realism give the movie the touch of depth it was missing. Ellen Hamilton Latzen is also very good as the couple’s young daughter. She is very believable and natural in all her scenes.
On Blu-ray Fatal Attraction is only a minor step up from the standard DVD release. The picture, which is offered on 1080p resolution, is good but not great. There is a lot more detail and lush colors than the standard DVD, but the film still looks its age. The sound, offered on Dolby HD TrueHD 5.1, also is good but nothing special. The dialogue is crisp and clear, but nothing else really stands out. There are quite a few special features on this disc. There is an informative commentary with director Adrian Lyne. There are also three featurettes: “Forever Fatal: Remembering Fatal Attraction” a 30-minute look back at the film featuring the cast, producers and director, “Social Attraction,” an interesting look at the cultural impact and feminist backlash surrounding the film, and “Visual Attraction,” a look at the production design of the film.
Most interesting is a 12-minute alternate ending. I won’t spoil it for those who would rather be surprised, but the ending parallels elements of a mutual interest the Forrest and Gallagher share. It’s a more fitting ending, but understandably tested poorly. However, given the film’s more generic horror movie-style ending, it would be interesting to know if the original ending would have helped Fatal Attraction stand the test of time as a more serious movie.