Fatal Attraction (1987)

Fatal Attraction was a huge deal when it was released in 1987. Not only was it the highest grossing film of the year, it also gained 6 Oscar nods, including Best Picture. Somehow I managed to remain relatively unaware of the film until recently, when I was able to experience it in all of its infamy.

Fatal Attraction looks at the repercussions of extramarital affairs, especially when said affairs are with a psychotic woman. This particular psychotic woman is Alex Forrest, played by Glenn Close. Alex appears to suffer from a violent form of borderline personality disorder, prone to emotional reversals and manipulative behavior. She becomes obsessed with a man she knows is married. Michael Douglass plays the cheating husband, Anne Archer the hapless wife.

Close is clearly the highlight of the film. Sometimes she is frighteningly manic, and other times overbearingly sweet – both modes equally disturbing. One of the more terrifying things about Alex Forrest is her intelligence compared to her emotional maturity. She is clever in all the ways she gets around Douglass’s avoidance, but also cries and cuts herself when she doesn’t get her way. She’s like an intelligent, violent toddler that Douglass can’t get rid of. Glen Close gives a performance that may very well end up in your nightmares.

The film excels in thrills and suspense, and even dips into the horror genre for its memorable finale. Director Adrian Lyne spins the story out with a very effective touch. There are a number of scenes with great intercutting, including Close catatonicaly turning a light on and off, and the infamous boiling bunny sequence. Other scenes are brilliant in tone, like the claustrophobic library where Douglass confides in a colleague amidst heavy breathing and tall book cases.

The suspense builds steadily as Close goes further and further with her infatuation, and the movie keeps up pace. I’m pretty sure the sound of the phone ringing gets increasingly louder. By the last act, the phone’s ring sounded more terrifying than any big budget sound effect – all it took was simple conditioning. Well played, Mr. Lyne.

My only issue with the film is that it seems somewhat unlikely for Douglass and Close to end up having an affair in the first place. Douglass slips into bed with her very casually, making it seem like he’s done this frequently before. If that’s the case, then I don’t feel as much pity for him, even if he is get stalked. As for Close’s character, it seems dubious that she should have so steady a job with an affliction so serious, but maybe she was fine before old cheatin’ Douglass came around and messed up her world.

Fatal Attraction may have been made in the 80s, but the only thing that seems dated is the attire. It’s still an effective thriller that maintains constant suspense, and Glen Close delivers one of the best female antagonist performances I’ve ever seen. This is easily one of the greatest thrillers ever made. It should not be missed.

Final rating: 9/10

–James A. Janisse


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