I think that 80’s thrillers are a good genre for me. I’m too sensitive and fragile to watch anything actually scary; I learned that the hard way in the ninth grade when I checked out Stephen King’s Rose Red and Children of the Corn. But movies like this—I’m thinking also of Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill—are just scary enough for me to get into it, but I don’t have to hold my pee in the middle of the night because I’m too scared to get up to go to the bathroom.
That being said, Fatal Attraction is absolutely nuts, and I am never going to speak to a stranger again, let alone have a one-night stand with one. In the film, Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) is a married man who, on a whim, has a brief affair with Alex Forrest (Glenn Close), a woman he met at a work party. Alex initially shows herself to be charmingly energetic, spontaneous, and persistent in her seeking of Dan’s affections, but she eventually abandons all pretenses in her quest to become “a part of Dan’s life” at any cost.
I thought this movie was great. Glenn Close’s performance as Alex was really brilliant. First of all, the 80’s hair was killing me. You are a mess, Glenn! Beyond that, in terms of her physical appearance, she dresses only in a binary of black and white. When we first meet her at the party, she is dressed in glittering black. The next time she and Dan run into each other, she is wearing an all-white suit, and she continues to wear white almost primarily throughout the weekend that they spend together.
Significantly, through all her black and white outfits, she always has long, venomous red nails. No need to beat anyone over the head with what that symbolism might mean.
I think the black and white wardrobe establishes a kind of Black Swan-esque duality in her character. What I found the most impressive about Close’s performance was her mastery of this duality. She really nailed the nuances of Alex’s normal-on-the-outside, crazy-on-the-inside personality. For the first half hour or so, Alex comes off as charismatic and animated, and we don’t really see any hints of her psychotic behavior until she violently grabs Dan’s shirt and tells him that she won’t let him leave. As the film continues, obviously, these displays of her twisted interior become more and more terrifying, until she is trespassing on Dan’s property, kidnapping his daughter, and trying to kill him and his wife. And yet, even as we become aware of her bizarre violence, we still see glimpses of that glossy, normalized exterior. When she comes to Dan’s apartment with feigned interest in buying it, we see her snap back into her charming performance for Dan’s wife.
I kept noticing the presence of water throughout the film, especially surrounding Alex. She seems to emerge from water the evening of their affair, walking down a rainy street to offer Dan an umbrella. When they sleep together for the first time (the sex scenes in this movie are so outrageous!!), they are up against the sink and Alex turns on the faucet and spreads the water over their bodies. Later, she boils the rabbit’s corpse in a pot of water on the Gallagher’s stove, and ultimately she sinks into their bathtub as she dies. I don’t really know what to make of that. There is a lot of uncontrolled, overflowing water in this film, which certainly is appropriate to Alex’s uncontrolled and overflowing personality, so maybe that had something to do with it.
For me, the question I’m left with is why does Dan sleep with Alex in the first place? I actually quite liked Michael Douglas in this film, and I found his relationship with his family to be believable and moving. He clearly cares about them so much. But when he tells Alex that he has a “whole relationship with someone else”, Alex replies, “Whole means complete. If your life’s so damn complete, what were you doing with me?” That was a question that resonated for me throughout the film. I don’t understand why he chooses to be unfaithful when he seems so satisfied and committed to his wife. The impetus just doesn’t seem to be there.
Whatever the reason is behind his initial act of infidelity, Dan pays the price for his crimes for the duration of the film. And Alex never lets us forget that Dan was initially as much to blame as she was. After chasing her through her apartment and preventing her from stabbing him, Dan places the guilty kitchen knife on the countertop so that the blade points towards her. He leaves the apartment. When Alex then appears in their bathroom in the final scene, she is holding that same knife—a reminder of Dan’s complicity.
Throughout the film, Alex wraps her actions in feminist jargon. Dan says that he pities her, and she snaps, “Why? Because I won’t allow you to treat me like some slut you can just bang a couple of times and throw in the garbage?” Almost a fair point…? She has several lines like that, and each one made me stop and think for a moment. I don’t really know what we’re supposed to get out of this movie. Is it just a man’s concept of female insanity—emotional, attached, psychotic? Maybe. Or maybe it is just a fun, freaky thriller. Either way, definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for a rush.