Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
Like the psychotic spurned lover who unleashes a chilling wave of domestic terrorism after a lusty weekend fling, 'Fatal Attraction' would not be ignored upon its release in 1987. This all-too-relatable thriller was hands down the year's most talked-about film, raking in millions at the box office, spawning heated debates in print and at cocktail parties, and slashing its way to six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Director, Actress (Glenn Close), and Supporting Actress (Anne Archer). It didn't seem to matter that this nightmarish look at marital infidelity was merely a mediocre movie that took a topical, thought-provoking premise and let it spiral way, way out of control. 'Fatal Attraction' struck a nerve – a raw one – and its social implications and gargantuan notoriety propelled it to far greater heights than it would have scaled on its cinematic merits alone.
Sure, it's an effective (and entertaining) exercise in suspense, with plenty of creepy undertones and the occasional "there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I" moment, but the over-the-top finale turns its villainess into a horror movie caricature and transforms a cautionary morality tale into a freak show. Lyne takes his time molding an unsettling, often disturbing drama, then shoots himself in the foot by falling prey to a host of clichés that almost obliterate and certainly trivialize the story's relevance. It might not be immediately apparent, but beneath all the knife wielding and bunny boiling lies a perceptive examination of sexual politics and one woman's refusal to play by society's age-old and outmoded rules.
As the film opens, Lyne scans the New York City skyline, and at last zooms in on the window of an upper-middle-class apartment, intimating that what we are about to see could happen to any family anywhere. In this case, though, it's the Gallagher family. Dan (Michael Douglas), an on-the-rise attorney, is married to the beautiful and devoted Beth (Archer), and they dote on their adorably androgynous five-year-old daughter, Ellen (Ellen Hamilton Latzen). Their existence looks idyllic on the surface, but when a business crisis prohibits Dan from joining Beth and Ellen on a country getaway, he succumbs to the allure of book editor Alex Forest (Close), and the two spend a steamy weekend in the sack. Alex provides Dan with the kind of uninhibited, animalistic sex he surely wasn't getting at home, and for 48 hours he revels in it.
All good things must end, however, and come Monday, Dan bids carnal oblivion adieu and returns to his normal life. Yet slipping away from Alex isn't nearly as easy as slipping into bed with her. She doesn't take rejection well, to say the least, and the harder Dan tries to sever all ties (without arousing the suspicions of his blissfully ignorant wife), the more Alex harasses him. She repeatedly calls his apartment, shows up at his office, and accosts him in the street, all the while alternating between a pitiful victim, sly manipulator, and vindictive harpy. Dan may be virile when he's humping Alex on top of the kitchen sink, but he's utterly impotent when it comes to protecting himself and his family from her vicious pranks and power plays. And as her wild mood swings and erratic behavior increase over time, it becomes frighteningly apparent the unbalanced Alex will stop at nothing to get Dan back.
For a generation of heterosexual men, 'Fatal Attraction' did what AIDS couldn't. It scared them, and made them think twice about the potentially dire consequences of extramarital and casual sex. Average Joes accustomed to banging every attractive broad they could sweet-talk into bed and then going home to their wives and girlfriends without a shred of remorse suddenly began padlocking their flies. Was the ego boost of a conquest and 15 fleeting minutes of pleasure worth the risk? For many men, the answer was no. After all, wearing a condom could keep a disease at bay, but it wouldn't protect you from a raving maniac who might stalk and terrorize you and your family. Though Ronald Reagan may have incited the conservative shift in American morality in the early '80s, and AIDS certainly abetted it, 'Fatal Attraction' played a major role as well. For the first time in a while, guys began thinking with their heads.
'Fatal Attraction' may have scared men, but it enraged women by victimizing a philandering husband who voluntarily forsakes his wife and daughter by having a sleazy affair, and portraying women as either doe-eyed, submissive housewives or parasitic, wacko sluts. Neither image is flattering, yet many feel each is a byproduct of the misogyny that pervades Lyne's work. By painting Alex as a weirdo almost from the get-go, we never really get a chance to empathize with her feelings of anger and betrayal, however warped they may be. She may make some cogent points about the horrific way many men treat women, but she's so quickly and ruthlessly demonized, her arguments lose their sting.
Yet despite all the mental and physical anguish Alex inflicts, it's equally difficult to sympathize with Dan, even though that's what the movie asks us to do. The more I see 'Fatal Attraction' (and the longer I've been married myself), the less I like Dan. Sure, he's an inherently nice guy, but that doesn't excuse his reckless, hurtful behavior. By screwing Alex, he also screws his wife and daughter, who have done nothing except express undying love and support for him. Interestingly, when Dan finally confesses his indiscretion, he apologizes for hurting Beth, but never expresses any regret about the affair or shame over his actions. Maybe such feelings are implied, but in this case, words would speak way louder than body language. No wonder so many women think men are scum.
Lyne has always struck me as a voyeuristic director, more concerned with titillation and pushing the envelope than creating substantive works, and the graphic violence and kinky sex scenes in 'Fatal Attraction' do little to tarnish that view. Still, he fashions a deliciously sinister mood, injects some welcome humor into the proceedings (even if most of the jokes focus on sex), and coaxes fine performances from his actors. At the time, Close was the biggest surprise, shunning her angelic, earth mother image and immersing herself in Alex's sexuality and lunacy. It's quite a shock even today to see her lounging around topless in bed and hungrily devouring Douglas, but she remains strikingly true to the character throughout and tries her best to keep the film grounded even as it begins to go off the rails. Douglas and Archer are also fine; both are very natural, and their excellent chemistry helps them craft a believable husband-and-wife relationship.
'Fatal Attraction' may be remembered more for the furor it inspired and societal changes it provoked than its artistry. And that's okay. It's still very much an '80s film, but it holds up better than I thought it would, and if you can wade through all the overblown melodrama and cheap shocks, you'll find issues that are still relevant and relatable. 'Fatal Attraction' remains a hot-button film, and it will stay one as long as men and women inhabit the planet.
Paramount has done a good job bringing 'Fatal Attraction' to Blu-ray. The 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encode sports a lot of striking clarity that lends the story palpable impact and immediacy, while a fine grain structure and slight softness maintain the picture's film-like appearance. Contrast skips around the scale; exteriors are generally bold and bright, but even well-lit interiors often appear flat and a tad dingy. 'Fatal Attraction' still looks its age, but not many specks or blemishes dot the source material, and the film's realistic look remains intact.
Colors can be quite lush at times – the greens of Central Park exhibit a natural vibrancy and the suburban sequences capture the area's tranquil, Eden-like atmosphere. Blacks are rich and deep, and shadow detail is adequate, but fleshtones are a bit off. Douglas looks perpetually flushed, and Close's tan adopts an artificial glow that's certainly present in the original film, but seems more pronounced here.
Close-ups are clear and highlight plenty of fine details, but for the most part, the picture remains two-dimensional. Still, this is a very nice upgrade from the standard DVD, and the lack of any noticeable enhancements, artifacting, banding, or edge sharpening keep our attention focused on the tense interplay between Douglas, Close, and Archer.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track is a bit more problematic. Not surprisingly, the audio in this 20-year-old film is front based, with very few surround effects bleeding into the rear channels. Dialogue is well prioritized and always easy to understand, even when spoken in hushed tones, but when the characters shout or their voices climb to the upper registers, some noticeable distortion creeps in and distracts from the action.
As a result, dynamic range is limited, but the jarring effects are, for the most part, clean, and music – be it the operatic strains of 'Madame Butterfly' or Maurice Jarre's ominous score – enjoys nice presence and depth of tone. Bass frequencies are limited, but the rumble and roar of the rollercoaster gives the subwoofer a chance to work, and the popping and bubbling of the water in the stew pot add extra oomph to a memorable scene.
At best, this is pretty standard audio that meets expectations, but never maximizes the capabilities of its lossless encode.
While I applaud the recent deluge of Paramount catalog titles on Blu-ray, I wish the studio would offer a few new supplements, instead of merely importing all the extras from the previous DVD release. The material here is pretty good, but it's all from 2002, and is beginning to look a little dated. It's also predominantly in standard def, although the theatrical trailer and highly interesting alternate ending have been upgraded to HD.
The big hair will forever link 'Fatal Attraction' to the '80s, but the dynamics between men and women, and how they perceive roles and relationships hasn't progressed all that much in the past 20 years, and as a result, Adrian Lyne's domestic thriller hasn't lost its bite. Beneath the schlocky climax and wild sex scenes lies a socially relevant film that continues to spark debate. Watching it today, it's hard to believe 'Fatal Attraction' received so many Oscar nominations, but that's what monster buzz and big box office can sometimes accomplish. Paramount makes this high-def release palatable enough to warrant an upgrade for fans, and for those who have never seen Douglas and Close go at it, a rental is definitely recommended.
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