Fatal Attraction (1986) dir. Adrian Lyne
Starring: Michael Douglas, Glenn Close, Anne Archer, Stuart Pankin
Erotic thrillers were a very popular genre in the late 80’s to early 90’s. In a recent posting I had argued “Basic Instinct” as the quintessential film of the genre, but a recent viewing of Adrian Lyne’s “Fatal Attraction” has changed my mind. Glenn Close is the nails on the chalkboard for Michael Douglas whose brief affair turns into a battle of the sexes for the ages.
Michael Douglas plays Ben Gallagher, a Manhattan big wig lawyer with a beautiful wife Beth (Anne Archer), and their cute daughter Ellen. They seem to have a perfect life together. Which is why when he is hit on by strong-willed professional colleague of his, Alex Forrest (Glenn Close), it’s a surprise that he quickly jumps into bed with her. Well, it takes them a while to make it to a bed. After a dinner and some wine, they consummate their affair on Alex’s sink countertop. It’s a rough and dirty scene, so hot that Alex cools herself down while in the act by reaching behind her back to turn on the water faucet.
Their affair lasts only a weekend while unsuspecting Beth is away at her parents’ house. When she returns, Ben goes back to his regular life, assuming Alex would do the same. Unfortunately for Ben, Alex turns needy and obsessive very fast. Ben tries his best to avoid her persistent phone calls, but the more he avoids her the more aggresive she gets. When Alex crosses the line and threatens his family Ben is forced to confess and confront his mistakes. With Ben clearly out of grasp, Alex resorts to violence to punish him.
Adrian Lyne, a great director from the 1980’s, makes a clear effort to control the colour pallette. He opens the film up establishing Gallagher's ‘perfect’ family, their innocence visualized with all white colour scheme. Ben, Beth and Ellen all wear white; the babysitter wears white; even the dog is white. The Gallagher family is perfect – perfect enough to be shattered by what is about to occur.
Lyne came from the class of British commercial directors of the 70's that begat Ridley Scott, Tony Scott and Alan Parker. That school of expressive and stylized lighting and camerwork is on display here as well. Attention is paid to Gallagher's apartment. Lyne uses long lenses to compress space, and selectively uses a limited number of camera setups which gives the feeling of Polanski-like big city clausterphobia
Michael Douglas and Glenn Close are a great pairing, with Close delivering one of the great villainous powerhouse performances. Alex is humanized first as a regular person then transforms into insane psychopathology. At the end of their weekend affair, Dan has to go home to his wife, thus ending the affair, Alex quickly goes from warm to stone-cold crazy bitch. As soon as we see her wrists cut we know we’re in dark thriller territory.
One of the great cinematic moments occurs at the third act turn when Dan walks into his apartment seemingly at his lowest moment, except when he walks in, like nails on a chaulkboard, he can hear Alex's voice speaking to his wife. Lyne continues the scene with some very tense dialogue between the three, and helped by a creepy music sting. Another great moment is the slow reveal of the famous boiling rabbit, which is built up well in advance by some great foreshadowing. After seeing the film twice, you'll never forget her line early in the film "Bring the dog, I love animals... I'm a great cook."
As villainous as Close's performance is, what makes the film great is that Ben is responsible for everything that happens to him. Alex is like the devil who teases Ben with some forbidden fruit, which he enjoys for a short period, then is forced to pay in extremes when he attempts to give it back. Alex though is always made human, even at her most extreme there is sympathy for her.
What would cause Ben, a seemingly intelligent man, who has so much to lose, to strike up an affair so recklessly? This unexplained answer feeds one of the themes of the film – the subjugation of men to women in the business world. Alex enters the picture as the only woman in an office full of macho, suit-wearing, scotch-drinking cigar-smoking ubermen. In one of their last conversations, Dan says to Alex, "I pity you because you're sick". Alex responds, "Why? Because I won't allow you treat me like some slut you can just bang a couple of times and throw in the garbage?" This line expresses the extraordinary complexities of this great genre thriller. Enjoy.
"Fatal Attraction" is now available on Blu-Ray from Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment
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