Infidelity is OK, So Long as She’s a Bunny Boiler

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.

Comments

  1. says

    I guess the original story that the movie was based off of was supposed to portray her as much more sympathetic than the movie does.

    If it has Michael Douglas in it, that’s (to me) a big red flag that the movie is going to be about how women deserve what they get because they’re mean to men.

  2. scarlett says

    Yeah, there was Basic Instinct and that one with Demi Moore where she accuses him of rape… I think it says something about him that he keeps taking these roles…

  3. says

    I do actually recall one scene in the movie in which she was crying and playing Madame Butterfly, and I thought we were supposed to sympathize.

    But, viewing it with my own beliefs in place, of course I’d feel more sorry for a psycho than a mentally healthy person who just doesn’t feel his marriage vows apply to him.

  4. scarlett says

    The most sympathetic point for me was when she tells him she’s pregnant and he acts like, having had his fling and discarded her when wifey came home, he has any say in the pregnancy.

    Thought of anyother misgynistic Michael Doglas movie – that one where he’s married to Gwyneth Paltrow and for some really flimsy reason decides to set her up to have an affair and then kill her. A Perfect Murder I think it’s called.

  5. MaggieCat says

    Thought of anyother misgynistic Michael Doglas movie – that one where he’s married to Gwyneth Paltrow and for some really flimsy reason decides to set her up to have an affair and then kill her. A Perfect Murder I think it’s called.

    Which was a remake of the far superior Hitchcock film (based on a play) called Dial M For Murder with Ray Milland and Grace Kelly. What’s really interesting is that A Perfect Murder combines the characters of the lover and the would-be killer into one, so it makes the woman look foolish enough to be dating someone that can be payed to kill her and changes the whole story.

  6. scarlett says

    I haven’t seen Dial M For Murder in several years and A Perfect Murder for about twice as long but I remember watching Dial M for Murder and thinking ‘this makes so much more sense then the other one’ – from memory, didn’t the husband plan to hire a killer and frame the lover?

    Hmmm, now that I’ve given it some thought, I think Michael Douglas is responsible for a decent chunk of the general downslide in qualitity in movies :p

  7. MaggieCat says

    He hired a killer and had it planned to make it look like she had surprised a burglar who killed her and then fled. The lover is actually set up to be the husband’s alibi- boyfriend had been in America for several years and had just come back, husband asks him to tag along to a stag party, so he can be sure of both where his wife is and that she’ll be alone. (In fact he has to make up a reason to make her stay home because she surprised him by initially saying she was going out.)

    He’d also (I think inadvertently) laid a bit a of groundwork some time before by blackmailing her anonymously when he happened to come into possession of a letter to the boyfriend, so when his plan went south after the hitman winds up dead, he uses that to make it look like she killed him on purpose so she’ll wind up hanging for murder. The lover comes up with a plan to have the husband “confess” thinking it’s better that the husband spend a few years in jail than his wife be executed. (Boyfriend was a crime novelist in the original, not a painter, which is how he happened to land on the truth when coming up with a plausible alternate theory.)

    It’s a very tightly done plot in the original, which is why I got fed up with the remake after about 20 minutes. The play those are all based on is by Fredrick Knott, who also wrote Wait Until Dark. For someone whose best known works (as far as I know) tend to fall into the ‘women in jeopardy’ category, they have very respectable female characters.

  8. scarlett says

    Ahh, I remember now. I’m not a huge fan of either Hitchcock or Grace Kelly but I remember watching it and thinking ‘what happens next, what happens next???’ I quite liked Vertigo as well, but wasn’t fussed on The Birds.

  9. says

    *shivers* Wait Until Dark was the movie that most made me wish I didn’t think Alan Arkin was so hot back in the day. Ugh, creepy.

    …yeah, I know. I have weird and eclectic taste in men. I refuse to apologize. :D

    Nick, I just bought Rebecca by DuMaurier after seeing the Hitchcock version on TV and thinking, “Yeah, that kinda lost all the nuances I still remember from the book 23 years later.”

  10. says

    Really? That’s so weird.

    What I came away from it at the time with was, “Do not cheat. You never know what you’re getting into when you decide to chat up that cute stranger in the hope of sex.”

    Because although Alex was portrayed as bazonkers, Dan’s wife was a good mother, and she seemed intelligent. And Dan did seem genuinely emoting when Alex went all suicidal. But yeah, he did seem to get a “get out of the consequences free” card now that you mention it.

  11. scarlett says

    Well what I hated about the storyline was that they they both had Alex go bonkers over something I thought most people would get upset over – being treated like a girlfriend and dumped as soon as wifey gets home, being called selfish for wanting to keep the baby – and used Alex being crazy to gloss over Dan’s infidelities.

    On the flip side, if it was a wife who had brought some crazy man into her family’s life via a misjudged one night stand, the wife would be held far more accounatble than Dan was.

  12. says

    When I saw it, I felt a lot like Indigo did. However, looking back, I realize I wasn’t watching it critically, so what I saw was what I was predisposed to seeing – cheating that backfires on a man for once.

    But I can totally see your read on it, Scarlett. Especially when I consider it in the context of other movies. Imagine a movie where a woman has an affair like this, and the guy she has it with becomes stalkerish, and her whole family’s endangered. There would be NO QUESTION she was bad and evil and it was all her fault. But when it’s the guy who brings this on his family through his own bad behavior? We’re not sure that’s what the filmmakers meant. Maybe they meant “cheating sucks” or maybe they meant “Boy, things didn’t go well for this poor chap, did they?”

  13. 5tephe says

    I (a 33yo guy) have never seen Fatal Attraction, but while we are talking about context, it would probably be an excellent thing to review Unfaithful (2002) alongside it.

    I’ve looked around the site here, and haven’t seen any review of that film, from a feminist perspective. It’s one in which the lead female character is the cheater, and the husband (Richard Gere) is portrayed very much as a victim. It’s been a while since my wife and I saw it, but from memory we both thought it was more complex than your usual Hollywood fare. (Possibly because it was based on a French film….)

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