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Revisiting 'Fatal Attraction' in the Age of #MeToo

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Glenn Close and Michael Douglas starred in 'Fatal Attraction' (1987)

Fatal Attraction is a movie in which a woman is repeatedly physically assaulted by her married lover,  slut-shamed by him and verbally abused for refusing to get an abortion at his behest. And in 1987, it was the second-highest grossing movie in America, having spent eight weeks at the top of the box office. In the end, Fatal Attraction grossed $156,645,693 in the U.S. ($320 million worldwide) and was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It also left a permanent mark on pop culture by introducing the term "bunny-boiler" into the lexicon.

At its core, Fatal Attraction was a deeply unsubtle metaphor about professional women's destruction of the traditional family unit. It was also part of a blatant cinematic backlash against career women that sent the message that women were obsessive creatures, utterly incapable of having casual sex, leaving men alone or handling rejection. It was "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" writ larger than ever before.

Critical reception was mixed at the time—The New Yorker noted: "The film is about men seeing feminists as witches, and the way the facts are presented here, the woman is a witch”—but audiences absolutely reveled in watching the destruction of Alex (Glenn Close). Movie theaters famously reported that some viewers were engaged to the point of shouting "Kill the bitch!" at the film's climax.

While Fatal Attraction was ultimately designed that way, it only happened during the very final stages of the project. When Glenn Close was first cast as Alex, the script was significantly different. Close initially saw the character as a fundamentally flawed woman who had been damaged by sexual abuse and was now suffering from erotomania. Before filming, the actress consulted with mental health professionals to get the nuances of Alex's personality and psychological problems just right.


Crucially, when Close signed on, Fatal Attraction didn't end with Alex breaking into Dan Gallagher's home with murderous motivations; it ended with her suicide and Dan's subsequent arrest for murder after his fingerprints were found on the weapon. Because that conclusion didn't play well with test audiences, Alex was instead quickly transformed into a monster, much to the chagrin of Close, who initially refused to re-shoot the ending.

In a recent interview with People TV, Close said: "Even though I killed myself, it wasn't punishment enough ... The audience wanted to believe that that family might be able to survive, so they got their catharsis by shedding my blood." In the same interview, Close also says that she doesn't think "it would have been the huge hit it became without [the ending in which Alex is transformed into a psychopath]." Screenwriter James Dearden said in 2014 that he “wrote it under duress and hated the ending” and that persuading Close to come back to re-shoot it was "one of [his] most shame-inducing recollections."

Glenn Close also shared that she's recently been thinking about how "wonderful it would be to write that story from [Alex's] point of view. That, I think, would be really interesting." It might also do some correcting of the original's imbalances, particularly the elements that painted Dan Gallagher as a hapless victim.

In 2018, any father-to-be in a movie angrily asking a pregnant woman why she didn't use contraception would automatically be viewed as the villain. The woman onscreen declaring that she could and would raise the child on her own would be viewed as resilient. The fact that audiences saw it the other way around in 1987 isn't just astounding, it's evidence of the feminist progress we've made in the years since.

But three decades after Fatal Attraction's release, especially in the midst of #TimesUp and #MeToo, it's hard for modern versions of the movie to get off the ground, thanks in part to how vividly the characters of Dan and Alex have continued to live on in the public consciousness. Just last year, Alex was alluded to on Saturday Night Live, during a skit that targeted Kellyanne Conway.

A TV show based on the movie was scrapped by Fox in 2017, despite having Mad Men's Maria and André Jacquemetton on board to write and produce it. A major issue was that no one wanted to star in it; both Megan Fox and Jenna Dewan Tatum are said to have turned it down. And while a Fatal Attraction stage play hit London's West End in 2014, it did so with the original suicide ending.

But perhaps, as Close has suggested, there is a way to revive Fatal Attraction in the 21st century.  If done from Alex's perspective, with the kind of nuance it was intended to have the first time around, this story, updated for 2018 audiences, could potentially explore issues like mental health, the far-reaching consequences of abuse, safe sex and the societal impacts of pitting women against each other. It might even prompt a conversation around monogamy and modern marriage. Combining Glenn Close's continuing, deep understanding of Alex as a character along with the kinds of complex approaches to storytelling we've seen recently on the likes of Big Little Lies, Sharp Objects and The Affair, Fatal Attraction could really be something great after all.

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