Fatal Attraction: The Story of Love Gone Mad

An essay on the 1987 thriller Fatal Attraction

They say that there is nothing worse than a woman scorned. But what happens when two women are the ones to get hurt by just one man? This is mostly what happens in the 1987 thriller film Fatal Attraction. The film revolves around Dan Gallagher, played by Michael Douglas, having an affair with Alex Forrest, played by Glenn Close, that comes back to haunt him. It not only involves Alex getting back at Dan, but his wife Beth, played by Anne Archer, getting into the mix of things as well. This film is instrumental in being a psychological thriller, as Glenn Close’s portrayal of Alex is sure to send chills down any man’s spine.   

What makes Fatal Attraction work as a thriller is by the many elements that go into this film. It goes more beyond the plot, but with the characters involved. The most important of these characters is Alex Forrest. She and Dan meet at a party and the relationship between the two blossom when Dan’s wife and daughter are away. Thinking it’s just a “one night stand,” Dan good back to is regular life, but in the words of Alex “I don’t like being ignored.” Her threats become more persistent, and as much as Dan tries to get rid of her, Alex will not let this die. She even goes as far as saying that Dan got her pregnant. The icing on the cake is when Dan’s wife finds out, threatening their marriage. The family is now under Alex’s wrath, with their pet bunny being boiled to death.   

Alex is portrayed as the femme fatale in Fatal Attraction. This means that she is the woman who seduces the main male lead that usually leads to the demise of our lead character, and the femme fatale coming out on top in the end. When you compare Alex to Kathleen Turner’s character Matty in the 1981 film Body Heat, you see a vast difference in outcomes. While both characters use their charming good looks to lure the male lead to their doom, Matty comes out on top in the end while Alex is defeated. Alex is killed by Beth after attacking her from behind and then getting into a fight with Dan in a struggle to kill him. While Matty gets away with her crimes in Body Heat, it is likely that Alex would’ve been found guilty for the number of crimes she has done against Dan and his family.   

What also makes Fatal Attraction such a great thriller is its theme, and what was occurring during the time of the film’s release. The theme of this film revolves around sex and having fun. The affair between Dan and Alex seems to lack any sort of protection, which is why Alex accused Dan of knocking her up. While the accidental pregnancy is sure to rile any person up, it is far better than what was actually happening during the time of Fatal Attraction release.   

Released in September of 1987, Fatal Attraction was brought to audiences during the height of the AIDS crisis. At the time, AIDS was seen as this incurable disease that leads to a death sentence. Relevant to the LGBT community, it soon became a worldwide phenomenon that impacted everyone. As a thriller, Fatal Attraction uses the sexual affair between Dan and Alex as a form of consequence. Like AIDS, a sexual relationship can lead to deadly consequences. This can also be seen in the 1992 thriller Basic Instinct where Michael Douglas again plays a character where pleasure brings a form of fatal consequences in the end.   

Also, HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, doesn’t go away once it is in your system. It becomes a part of your everyday life, and you live with it until the virus takes over and eventually kills you. The same could be said with Alex becoming a part of Dan’s everyday life and never leaving until he becomes Alex’s one and only woman.   

Fatal Attraction also uses the theme of adultery in the film to tie in with the theme of sexual desire. Most religions see infidelity as a form of sin and discriminate those who have committed such a crime. Marriage is recognized as an unbreakable bond between two people who are committed to being together for the rest of their lives. Dan puts himself in a situation where he puts his marriage with Beth at risk by having an affair with Alex. In reality, many women would leave their male counterparts for cheating on them. And many men would do the same if their female partner cheated on them. But Beth and Dan have a good thing going as they still stick together for the sake of their daughter.  

What makes a good thriller is how well you make your climax. The climax is the height of the story that usually involves a dramatic moment, such as a huge fight scene or a shootout or the discovery of a villain. Fatal Attraction uses its climax correctly by keeping the audience on the edge of their seats for the longest time and then throwing it all in their faces during the climax. Tensions are built with Beth’s discovery of Dan cheating on her with Alex, and finding the family pet rabbit boiled in a pot by Alex as an act of revenge. The tip of the iceberg when their daughter is abducted and showing that Alex is just as dangerous as the audience thought she could be.   

The climax of Fatal Attraction begins with Beth drawing a bath when Alex shows up and attacks Beth with a knife. The fight gets Dan’s attention as his tea comes to a boil (a symbol of the tensions boiling over and beginning out climax). Running up to the bathroom to see his wife in danger, Dan goes right after Alex to put an end to this horrible nightmare. Dan is stronger than Alex and is able to fight her off and push her into the bathtub and drown her.   

Thinking that the damage is done, Alex jumps right back and attacks Dan with the knife that she used on his wife. Alex has gone from a woman who wouldn’t leave until she got what she desired, to a woman who would kill anyone to attempted to stop her even going as far as killing Dan for the damage he has caused her. The climax ends with Beth taking a gun hidden in the house and shooting Alex right through her heart, eventually killing her. Dan and Beth go on to live their lives as a married couple in love, while Alex is killed for the actions of a married man who never loved her, to begin with.   

Fatal Attraction works as the perfect thriller to give any person in any kind of relationship a scare. It makes you never want to be in a relationship again. In my opinion, all of the events in Fatal Attraction could’ve been avoided if Dan had just kept it in his pants and had been a faithful husband to Beth. Instead, he found out how far a woman can go to get what she wants, and he found that in Alex. I believe that Fatal Attraction is a great thriller because of the elements it brings into its story, as well as how Alex is portrayed as this monster of a woman. The story keeps everyone wanting more and wanting to know what Alex’s next move is going to be. But why is Fatal Attraction such a great thriller?   

The film ends on such a sour note with Dan killing his own child. He had to kill a woman who would not leave him alone, which in all retrospect he brought on to himself. But what makes Fatal Attraction a great thriller is the terror that brings with the offensive performance that Glenn Close brings.   

But we wonder who deserved their actions in this story. Did Dan deserve to have his life ruined by a woman who threatened to take everything away from him? No. Was Alex taken back by all of this? Well, she did know ahead of time that Dan was only looking for a one-night stand. So she shouldn’t be surprised that Dan wanted anything to do with her after the one night together. But what is clear is that Dan is at fault for putting not only himself but his family in danger of Alex’s wrath. Alex did get what she deserved in the end, but she didn’t deserve to be such a broken woman over one man.   

Fatal Attraction works as a thriller as it brings up the consequences of what can happen when one person is unfaithful in a relationship. It shows that being unfaithful can hurt many people in the end, so there is no need to cheat on the person you love. If you do cheat, you never liked that person, to begin with. In the end, we are left with one man’s wrong decision that effectively changed his life and the lives of others around him for the worse. 

Author: danielzuaro

A young, 21-year old trying to find his place in the world. A graduate of Buffalo State College with a Bachelor's in Media Production with a minor in Film Studies. I also enjoy writing, music, food, and animals (mainly my cats.) Everyone has a story! Mine just consist of me constantly blabbing. Come join me as I talk about subjects of my life and the world around me!

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