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Thursday, April 26, 2018

Director Report Card: Adrian Lyne (1987)

4. Fatal Attraction

Adrian Lyne followed up the surprisingly successful “Flashdance” with “9 ½ Weeks,” which failed at the American box office. At some point afterwards, he saw the 1980 short film “Diversion.” After meeting with James Deardon, the short's writer and director, Lyne decided a feature adaptation would be his next movie. The resulting film, “Fatal Attraction,” would make up for the failure of “9 ½ Weeks” in a big way. “Fatal Attraction” would become the second highest grossing film of the year in America and was even bigger internationally. The movie would be nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Moreover, it would become the most hotly discussed and debated movie of the year. Thirty-one years later, “Fatal Attraction” remains an iconic and respected motion picture.

Dan Gallagher has a good life. He's married to Beth, his beautiful wife, and the two have a wonderful young daughter. He's a widely successful lawyer. The two have a dog and a Manhattan apartment, though they're planing to move to the mainland. However, Dan still feels the need to stray. He meets Alex Forrest at a work party. They are immediately attracted to each other. During a weekend when he has the apartment to himself, the two hook up. However, Alex won't leave him alone after that. She is not satisfied with being an affair. She soon makes moves to force herself into Dan's life. When that doesn't work, she decides she's going to ruin his life instead.

“Fatal Attraction” has most commonly been read as a cautionary tale. To often, that message has been – if you'll excuse the pun – boiled down to “don't stick your dick in crazy.” However, I think “Fatal Attraction” is equally arguing for personal responsibility. The movie was released the same year as Michael Douglas' Oscar-winning turn in “Wall Street.” His character similarly has it made, a successful lawyer with a beautiful wife and child. He thinks he can get away with anything, namely sleeping with a strange woman. He soon learns that he can't, that even a macho master of the universe cannot avoid repercussion. That he handles Alex's clear instability so poorly, to the point that his wife and child become endangered, further makes everything bad that happens in “Fatal Attraction” his fault. This led to “Fatal Attraction” also being read as an AIDS-era fable about how sex can have deadly consequences.

“Fatal Attraction” is a natural evolution of “9 ½ Weeks” in some ways. The film begins with a heavy degree of eroticism. Dan and Alex's affair begins with meaningful glances at a party. This quickly escalates to a hot and heavy love making scene, the two banging over a steaming sink before moving into the bedroom. Later, she goes down on him while they ride an elevator. Their lovemaking is sweaty and intense, much the same as the graphic humping in Lyne's previous film. Yet even in these early scenes, Lyne suggests there's something wrong. The roughness of their first time together feels like a violation of Dan's home life. This begins a tense atmosphere that continues to build throughout “Fatal Attraction.” The movie slowly escalates from erotica to a proper thriller.

Adrian Lyne's interest in location continues in “Fatal Attraction.” The movie is mostly set in New York City which is not highlighted as much as the cities in “Flashdance” or “Foxes,” save for a scene in Central Park. Instead, Lyne focuses more on how the settings reflect on the characters. The Gallagher family home is painted in white. In the first scene, the entire family is introduced wearing white. When a rabbit is brought into the household, its white too. These pure colors stand in contrast to Alex's apartment. The elevator leading up to is industrial, made of harsh black and gray metal. This separation is made clearer when Alex tracks down Dan at his new home, seeing the warmth of the family's happy home while she stands in the darkness outside, isolated and alone.

The outrageous direction Lyne frequently displayed in his last two movies manifests in a different way here. As Alex becomes more dangerous, Lyne's direction becomes more intense. The camera takes Dan's perspective when he discovers Alex is in his home, letting the audience feel his terror. A first person POV is also assumed when Beth rushes to rescue her child, which eventually ends with her wrecking her car. The camera suddenly reveals Alex watching Dan at work from a distance, appearing through the cracks of an elevator. Lyne's direction is at its most intense during the infamous “bunny boiling” moment. There is a rough crash-zoom as the pot lid is pulled off, as the dead rabbit is revealed. By the time Alex is attacking Dan with a butcher knife, “Fatal Attraction” feels like a proper horror movie.

Following “Fatal Attraction,” Michael Douglas would star in several other “erotic thrillers.” However, his characters in “Basic Instinct” and “Disclosure” were forgiven for their macho bullshit a little more easily. Dan Gallagher, on the other hand, is a man who develops some regrets. A weekend of fun, consequence-free sex quickly becomes anything but. As Alex becomes more and more dangerous, Dan refuses to admit the truth to his wife. It's only after his stalker has actually enter their home that he fesses up. Somewhere around the same time, he physically attacks Alex. Unlike his later, feckless characters, Douglas shows that Dan feels bad about his actions. Yet Dan Gallagher is still a scumbag, a man who thinks he can get away with anything.

Much of the praise for “Fatal Attraction” would be reserved for Glen Close. As Alex Forrest, she is a force of nature. From her first scene, she exhibits a sensual energy around Dan. This white hot attraction boils over when the two have sex. However, Forrest quickly exhibits unnerving behavior. Close weeps and breaks down when Dan tries to leave. Afterwards, she slashes her own wrists. She glares angrily at a telephone when he won't answer her calls. She stares with an intense hatred at the life she wishes she could have. As intense and frightening as Close can be in the part, she never looses sight of Alex's humanity. She is a person, she has been wrong, and she deserves retribution. Or, at least, that's how Close plays it.

As much as “Fatal Attraction” is a film demanding that cocksure lotharios take responsibilities for their actions, it's also a more conservative horror movie about the nuclear family being threatened. Dan's life with his wife and daughter is idyllic. The kid is adorable. They have parties with rich, colorful friends. Alex, initially, is more preoccupied with hurting Dan's peaceful existence than the man himself. She targets his child. Eventually, even after Dan physically attacks her, she goes after his wife. The audience is meant to emphasize with this man, woman, their 1.5 children, and the nice suburban home they eventually buy. His indiscretions threaten this life. However, the insistence that this life is maintained is ultimately the most important thing, the film says. This need to defend the suburban family at all costs is really hammered home with the movie's final shot, a slow zoom on a family photo of the Gallaghers during happier times.

This attitude is most apparent in the movie's ending. It's well known that “Fatal Attraction,” as initially planned, ended differently. Originally, Alex commits suicide by slashing her throat with a knife Dan touched, making it look like he murdered her. He goes to prison for her death and is only saved at the last minute. Test audiences were not satisfied with this conclusion. So a more outlandish ending was filmed. Its in this new ending that “Fatal Attraction” truly becomes a horror movie. There's a frenzied butcher knife attack, burst of gore, and a seemingly dispatched attacker leaping back to life. It's counter-intuitive to the rest of the movie's message, features a sloppily set-up deus ex machina conclusion, and creates at least one plot hole. (How did Alex get into the house so easily?)

It's also, it must be said, a pretty well done sequence. Lyne's intense direction only grows more manic during this scene. A slowly overflowing bathtub and Alex picking at her own skin with a knife ratchets things up. Alex and Dan's fight is filmed in close quarters. We see limbs lashing out, faces becoming bloodied. This then leads to a sudden stillness before one more jump scare. I'm not quite sure how test audiences missed that Dan is as much the movie's bad guy as Alex is. But that crowd-pleasing ending does conclude the film on a bang.

Glenn Close was not the only actress in the film to receive an Academy Award nomination. Anne Archer was also nominated for her role as Beth Gallagher, the beleaguered wife. Archer plays the character as mostly clueless throughout, happy to live her normal life and totally unaware of her husband's infidelity. It's only after he reveals the truth that she explodes with righteous indignation. That's when Archer comes into her own as a performer, raging at Douglas' bullshit. The supporting cast also features a surprise appearance from Fred Gwynthe. Herman Munster showing up in the movie is kind of random but always appreciated.

“Fatal Attraction's” place in pop culture history is secure. The term “bunny boiler” has entered the vernacular for any clinging, unstable woman. Single lines of dialogue, such as “I'm not going to be ignored, Dan,” became famous and are still easily recognized. Though the movie's mixed politics have not aged well, “Fatal Attraction” is still hugely effective as a thriller. The performances and direction combine to make a tense experience. [Grade: B+]

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