At one of the peaks of conservatism in America (of which there have been many), Fatal Attraction‘s release in 1987 has often been viewed as a cautionary tale against the pratfalls of adultery–a means to scare yuppies out of a moment of ephemeral passion in favor of the risk of losing it all through potential unwanted pregnancies, AIDS (the biggest scare of all in the 80s), etc. Dan Gallagher’s (Michael Douglas) ease in committing what he thinks will be a brief weekend affair with a woman who works for the same publishing company as he does, Alex Forrest (Glenn Close), sets off a chain reaction that he can’t control.
His (fatal) attraction to Alex at the outset of meeting her at a book release thrown at a Japanese restaurant–meaning sushi (still a novelty in 1987 New York)–stems from the fact that his wife, Beth (Anne Archer), has become dull in her brown-hairedness and virtuosity. Even her name, Beth, pales in comparison to the American exoticism of boy’s name for a girl, Alex. She is bland and stale, merely the mother of his strangely androgynous child, Ellen (Ellen Hamilton Latzen). The boredom of the same woman, the sensible choice for marriage, if you will, gets to Dan. The monotony makes him vulnerable enough to succumb to Alex’s charms during a weekend he must work while Beth and Ellen go to the country to visit her parents. After the two attend the same business meeting, Alex catches him in the rain outside of their building and extends the invitation for him to get a drink with her while they “wait it out.”
At the table, Alex comes across as aloof, confident and utterly cavalier. She sexily notes that a lawyer like Dan must be very good at discretion a.k.a. having an affair. Dan admits that he is and Alex, in turn, suggests that she is as well. The two are both imminently in her Meatpacking District apartment as Dan is finally able to have the physical release that’s been missing from his marriage (the banality of appointments, real estate discussions and taking the dog out hardly contribute to any form of foreplay).
Afterward, it’s clear that Alex has grown overly fond of Dan, asking him to go dancing with her and then begging him to come over to her apartment again the next day, sure he can bring the dog. It’s then that they discuss their shared love of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, the story of a woman who falls for a man that chooses her out of convenience, leaves her behind after she becomes pregnant with his child and then drives her to kill herself from the pain of the abandonment and betrayal. Of course, the parallels to the narrative of Fatal Attraction are not without noticing. But it’s too soon for Dan to see it just yet.
As Dan tries to leave her apartment in time to make it back for Beth and Ellen’s return, Alex goes for the innovative route of making him stay by slitting her wrists–this after screaming at him, “If you told me to fuck off, I’d have more respect for you.” This is merely child’s play in the series of acts that Alex puts on subsequently. One minute, Dan is attracted to her, the next it’s all he can do to expunge every second they spent together from his memory.
Now, Beth appears purer and more virtuous than ever, and Dan can’t fathom why he would ever want to allow himself to be tempted by the devil. You see, the Glenn Closes are traps, open labial lips flapping at you with the promise of different-feeling sex to distract you from the humdrum nature of monogamy. They’re only there, ultimately, to make men rediscover the worth of what they’ve settled with. The trouble comes when the Glenn Closes won’t let you forget how you’ve used them.
On one surface level, the Glenn Closes and Anne Archers of the world are divided up to indicate that there are women you fuck and women you marry. But beneath that, there is this: some women–the Glenn Closes–have too much love to give, a surfeit of which can quickly turn to hate if wasted upon the wrong person.