1987 in Film – Fatal Attraction

Release Date: September 18th
Box Office:  $156,645,693

Hollywood is a tough place to make it but it helps if your Dad is an actual legend. Just ask Michael Douglas; his Dad won Oscars, worked with geniuses and helped smash the blacklist. Having him around would help get a foot in the door when it comes to the movie industry.

That sells Douglas short though. Yeah, he’s a big star but he got there by making great choices first as a producer One Flew Over The Cuckoo Next (1975) then as an actor Romancing (1985). And then he starred in two films that would go on to define the 80s as a whole; Wall Street (1987) and Fatal Attraction (1987).

Wall Street we’ll get to later, first we have Attraction.

Douglas is a happily married lawyer in New York who meets Glen Close at a party. Whilst Douglas’ family is away, he and close have a fling which he believes to be a bit of fun. For Close, however, it is not just fun. Oh no, not fun at all. As she clings to him more and more Douglas realises that things may be even less fun that he realises.

Attraction is, in it’s genre, a definitive film. Whilst the plot of the jilted lover may have been around long before this, Attraction gave it a form that could be copied and parodied to this day. The most famous scene, of Douglas’ wife finding the family rabbit boiling in a saucepan, has not just entered into movie iconography but also the dictionary with ‘bunny boiler’. Even the end of the film, with Close’s character now given fully to madness, takes influences from the slasher genre and makes them it’s own.

That ending does sell the film somewhat short. What was a nuanced drama becomes a full on thriller as Close tries to exact her revenge at the sharp end of a kitchen knife. This was changed thanks to audience feedback; the original ending saw Close kill herself framing Douglas for her murder in order to exact her revenge. The focus audience didn’t approve of this; they felt that Close’s character, due to her actions, needed to be defeated so the ending was re-worked.

This also gives Douglas’ character somewhat of a pass; here he is sleeping around but it doesn’t end up his totally his fault because, you know, she was crazy. That’s probably not the intention but it’s hard not to read it that way. In this way, Close’s character can be seen as a manifestation of the HIV epidemic that was happening during this era. Sex and promiscuity was a bit of fun, especially after the free love era of the 60s. But then in the 80s danger returned; random sex with a stranger now could end with your death.

Despite this Attraction sits as a deeply feminist film, despite the main female character being tarred as the villain of the piece. You could argue this new ending feeds the narrative of the woman knowing her place in the family; Close, the career woman, dies at the hands of Douglas’s wife, the mother. But then she herself goes through a change, from the meek housewife to the gun toting woman protecting her family.

The film was a huge success, audiences lapped up the story and the catharsis the updated ending supplied. Close would end up an iconic movie villain, Douglas would return to the same well for Basic Instinct (1992) and Disclosure (1992); a man led astray by his trousers and ending up in a heap of trouble. It’s certainly one way of getting out from under your Dad’s shadow.

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