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Fatal Attraction

Fatal Attraction

By Jamie Suckley • February 10th, 2012
DECONSTRUCTING CINEMA, view PART 22: FATAL ATTRACTION
Paramount Pictures

Release date: September 18th, see 1987
Certificate: 18
Running time: 119 minutes

Director: Adrian Lyne
Writer: James Dearden

Cast:
Michael Douglas, Glenn Close, Anne Archer, Ellen Hamilton Latzen

Bunny boiler: 1:22:40 to 1:24:14

Deconstructing Cinema: One Scene At A Time, the complete series so far

I’ve never understood why people commit adultery; its bad enough that people publicly share their deviation on daytime talkshows and in the tabloids – why should we care? And then they become ‘celebrities’ due to this?

This 1987 box office smash directed by Adrian Lyne, was nominated for six Academy Awards and is the best example of why you shouldn’t let your genitals do the thinking. It’s message not only made men cautious but it also terrified audiences around the world and fearing for their pets. You can’t ignore Fatal Attraction.

Written by James Dearden, the film centres on a successful, happily married New York attorney Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas). Through business, he begins a passionate affair with Alexandra ‘Alex’ Forrest (Glenn Close), an editor for a publishing company, while his wife Beth (Anne Archer), and daughter Ellen (Ellen Hamilton Latzen), are away for the weekend. After realising that it was a mistake, Dan ends the affair and considers it over, but Alex, who has attached herself to him, won’t be ignored. Not now, not tomorrow, not ever… and will do whatever it takes even if that means destroying his family.

Fatal Attraction

Fatal Attraction was one of the first films to be described as an

“Erotic thriller, which is so named for having given equal consideration to sex and violence, as well as offering opportunity and rationalization for their considerable comingling” [1]

The scene, which is arguably one of the most intense and memorable, is of course the discovery of the rabbit stew. As the family return home, Ellen runs into the back garden to see Whitney (the rabbit) as Beth goes inside the house. As she enters the house she notices something boiling in a pot on the stove.

In sync using the technique of intercutting, Ellen is running towards the rabbit hutch as Beth is seen putting her bags down. They both make their discoveries at the same time; Ellen realising that Whitney is gone and Beth, lifting the lid of the cooking pot, discovers the bloodied body of Whitney. The dialogue also keeps the intercutting technique and helps the tension reach its peak.

Fatal Attraction

ELLEN: Daddy
DAN: [running towards her] What?
BETH: [Screams]
ELLEN: [Crying] Where’s he gone?
BETH: Daniel
ELLEN: [Now hysterical] Where’s he gone?

The scene ends with a traumatised Ellen, crying in bed.

What made it so effective is that from the moment Beth enters the house there’s the feeling that something is wrong; the camera angles are simple and the music at that point subtle. The characteristics of the scene are reminiscent of the horror genre where you are waiting for a character to be murdered or to discover a body. There’s an emphasis on the boiling pot and the tight camera shots help create a claustaphobic feel, the idea that their family life has been invaded and corrupted.

“As Goimard points out, the Pathetic is produced more easily through the misfortunes of women, children, animals or fools”. [2]

This could be easily incorporated into this scene. Ellen (the child), Beth (the woman), Whitney (the animal) and Dan of course would be the fool. Up to this point the affair had taken place in bars, his flat and his family home was the one place that remained sacred in the terms that he hadn’t had Alex there. As the scene occurs he realises the nightmare, which his actions has caused. It leaves him powerless. He is torn between the scream of his wife and the devastation of his daughter and its effective to see him turning to the direction of his family, not knowing who to go to first or how to deal with the situation.

Fatal Attraction

With the films major themes of feminity, stalking, adultery and mental illness aside it also highlights the theme of animal cruelty and the effects it has on us. Its one of the most upsetting themes for me as it happens in real life and people get away with it. In the scene for example: we as the audience shared the secret with Dan as to who had murdered the rabbit and by killing the family pet Alex defied his threats to stay away and effectively entered his family circle making the whole family pay for his actions. She did say she wouldn’t be ignored. It also highlights the effects the death of a family pet can have on us – they are part of our lives and are classed as family but by killing them it’s the closest way someone can send a message without going to prison for murder.

For me, it was so effective as throughout the film we have witnessed the irrationality of Alex and the lengths she’s gone to see Dan and watched her mental health deteriorate. Up until this point I felt sympathy for her and wanted Dan to pay for his actions. The moment of revelation that the rabbit had died, my opinion changed and I hoped Beth would be able to take control and get her revenge on both of them.

Alarm bells would have been ringing for me as soon as Alex said earlier in the film to Dan “bring the dog, I love animals. I’m a great cook”. She forgot to mention that she does a tasty rabbit stew. I wanted full-scale vengeance. What can I say; I’m an animal lover.

Fatal Attraction

Socially, Fatal Attraction made a huge impact on popular culture. It inspired other films to try to create the terror of animal deaths. Single White Female (1992) showed us that dogs couldn’t fly when pushed out of a window, The Roommate (2011) emphasised the reason why kittens shouldn’t be put in tumble driers, Fear (1996) literally shoved a dog’s head through the letter box and The Holding (2011) carved up the slaughter of a bull.

It has also been constantly parodied in television programmes such as the Family Guy episode Barely Legal where Meg becomes obsessed with Brian and mimics certain aspects of the film, particularly as Meg plays Madame Butterfly while turning the lamp on and off and she says “I will not be ignored”.

“Bunny boiler, has entered the popular lexicon both to bespeak Alex’s penchant for inventive means of revenge and as a shorthand for women willing to resort to sadistic methods with which made their presence known to current or former lovers” [1]

The film was the origin of this phrase and over the years it hasn’t just been stereotyped for women; it’s a term we use to describe anyone who is a bit too forward or unnerving. I know I’ve met a few people when I was single who could easily take that phrase to a new level. Thankfully, my dog remained unboiled.

Twenty-five years later, Fatal Attraction remains a true classic. Its powerful message seems cemented in our minds.

SOURCES:

  • (1) Leonard, Suzanne Fatal Attraction (2009), Wiley-Blackwell
  • (2) Landy, Marcia Imitations of Life: A Reader on Film and Television Melodrama (1991), Wayne State University Press

Sadly, as seen on talkshows and in the tabloids, some people are still willing to make mistakes and aren’t ready to commit to a relationship, let alone face the consequences.

While social networks and the advances in technology have paved the way for a modernised potential Alex, I guess no pet is safe.

Jamie Suckley

Jamie Suckley

Jamie, editor for Cult Movies at Static Mass, is a 24 year old media studies graduate from Sheffield, who likes nothing better than watching films. If he was to star in a horror film he’d like to be the first one killed (think Drew Barrymore in Scream).

He has a keen interest in horror which started when he was a child. Due to his hyperactive behaviour his cousins made him watch films they thought would calm him down- They were wrong! It was watching Hellraiser and Killer Klowns from Outer Space that his passion for horror began. Over the years this developed into a passion for zombies, madmen, mutated animals and all things gore.

When he’s not working, in his dream world, worrying about zombie epidemics or watching films, he can be found on Twitter sharing his thoughts and bringing his dream world into reality.

You can follow Jamie on Twitter @JamieSuckley.

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