About ten years ago, I first saw Fatal Attraction. Even then, in my mid-teens and a burgeoning feminist, the movie annoyed me. I saw it again recently, and pinpointed exactly what I didn’t like about it.
You have Dan (Michael Douglas) a successful man with a loving wife and daughter. He meets Alex (Glenn Close), they have a sexual connection, they run into each other again while the wife, Beth, is out of town. A chance meeting turns into dinner, and when Alex tells him she’s willing to take their chemistry to the next level, he takes her up on it with out much (apparent) remorse. He then spends the day with her, and the next night, doing coupley things like dancing and picnicking in the park.
When he tries to leave, she goes mental, and things quickly deteriorate. Things seem alright for a while – she apologises for her behaviour, and they part on amicable terms – but then she starts stalking him. Turns out she’s pregnant. His first comment is “Is it mine?”; his second, “I’ll support you through the abortion.”. He then goes on to call her selfish and irresponsible for wanting to keep the child and raise it in a single-parent family.
Their relationships deteriorates very quickly from there, and she begins to stalk his family. I was on the tail end of a generation that grew up with a phrase for a psycho ex coined from this movie; bunny boiler.
At the same time, I sympathised with her. Dan spent two nights and a day with her doing lovey, coupley things with her. He did not sleep with her in the heat of the moment and feel bad about it as soon as it was over. I couldn’t blame Alex for thinking there was something more to it then Dan getting his rocks off. Men who have affairs and who are then wracked with guilt don’t go back. Several times, she asks him why, if he’s so happy in his marriage, did he spent two nights with her? Beyond her asking the question, this is never properly addressed. It’s like the producers were hoping some nagging feminist wouldn’t deconstruct the movie eighteen years later and demand an answer to those questions
The film relies on Alex’s deterioration into a nutcase to distract us from Dan’s infidelities; when he fesses up to Beth, the aftermath of such a revelation is conveniently glossed over as Alex attempts to kill Beth, convinced she’s all that’s standing in the way of her being with Dan. Never does the film says, directly or indirectly, that there are consequences for infidelity, regardless of how much havoc the source of your infidelity wrecked on your family. Alex’s insanity absolved Dan of cheating on his wife.
For precisely this reason, my sympathies lay more with Alex then Dan. Yes, she was insane. But her ‘rejected lover’ lunacy didn’t exist in a vacuum; Dan treated her like a girlfriend, discarded her with his wife came home, called her selfish when she wanted to keep their child. I had sympathy for Beth and their daughter for being innocent bystander’s caught up in the consequences of Dan’s actions, but not much for Dan.
After all, you reap what you sow.