Was sex ever really safe If it ever was, it certainly was no longer after the release of “Fatal Attraction,” the film that Time Magazine called the “zeitgeist hit of the decade.” Although “Fatal Attraction” is not ostensibly about AIDS, it got a lot of attention out of tapping into the growing AIDS-related sexual fears.
“Fatal Attraction” is a film about the fear of sex and how terrible sex can be. The sex scenes in ther movie are tinged with horror. In the famous scene between Douglas and Close, which begins in the kitchen sink, there's a sense of foreboding. The Village Voice's critic Jim Hoberman noted, “Just below the surface, “Fatal Attraction” illustrates the bleak wisdom of popular songs and the craziness implicit in the idea of `love at first sight' or `it had to be you.' The film is compelling because, ultimately, there's no such thing as safe sex.” This may be the reason why “Fatal Attraction” became the definitive film of the year.
“Fatal Attraction” had an important effect on Hollywood for it was a successful rearrangement of familiar conventions, as in the feminized male and in the masculinized female character. The picture's general success can be attributed to the multiple identification figures, offered by Alex, Dan, and Beth. Since its release, “Fatal Attraction” has been imitated to death and it launched a whole cycle of erotic-psychological thrillers.
Opening on September 18, 1987, the film grossed $7.6 million in the opening weekend. People went back to see the film again and again throughout the fall of 1987, and the reactions in theaters got louder and louder, as familiarity with the characters and the story increased.
The script was peddled around at least four and a half years before Paramount picked it up. The project was rejected because studio executives worried that the Michael Douglas character was too unsympathetic. The original version ended with Alex killing herself and leaving Dan's fingerprints on the knife. A new ending was reshot, at the cost of $1.3 million, after two test screenings. American audiences hated the original ending; the film would not have been a hit if Paramount had not corrected the ending.
Producers rushed to turn out “Fatal Attraction”-influenced TV movies like “Dangerous Affection” and “Fatal Confession,” and films like “Deadly Illusion,” after the film's initial success. A Saturday Night Live skit was based on “Fatal Attraction,” with L.L. Cool J. in the Alex role, playing Sean Penn's psychotic prison boyfriend.
“Fatal Attraction,” which was shot by Lyne in the slick style of a TV commercials, was hardly original. It was part of a general trend in 1980's films that took a more cautious view of sex, often portraying the family as being endangered by outside forces. These films included: “No Way Out,” “Near Dark,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Positive I.D.,” “Cross My Heart,” and “The Untouchables.” However, “Fatal Attraction” hit a nerve like no other film.
Along with the film's stern precautionary tone came a new familialism, and people became interested again in having traditional families–and bonds. Pauline Kael humorously mentioned in her review of “Fatal Attraction” that one of the film's implicit messages was that, “the family that kills together stays together.” At the same time, “Fatal Attraction” caused working women to reassess their lives, especially single working women. This is primarily a result of Alex's negative image. Supermarket tabloids carried pictures of Glenn Close with the subtitle of “The Most Hated Woman in America.” The Sunday Express in Britain termed this kind of antagonistic reaction, “the Alex effect.” At the end of the film, audiences were known to scream “Kill the bitch! Kill the bitch!”
The film played off of women feeling used by men. Alex is sexually liberated and successful in her career, yet she is still obsessed with a man. Her talk of responsibility and commitment is made of the same aggressiveness and anger of feminist rhetoric, and yet she is addicted to a married man. Alex is also a woman who has sought independence through her career, but suddenly finds she has lost the option to go back home. Glenn Close gave the script to three psychiatrists (including her own) to help her come up with this loaded portrayal of the 1980's woman gone wrong.
More than anything else, “Fatal Attraction” brought back sexual moralizing in the AIDS era. The melodramatic good-versus-evil bent lends itself to this moralizing. The film articulated a shift in interest from sex to romance, and from sleeping around to sleeping with the family. Kate Ellis perhaps put it best when she wrote, “Fatal Attraction is best read as a diagnosis, a score card, a wake-up call.”
“Fatal Attraction” convinced viewers that the casual sex of the swinging sixties was bad, and was over and done with–that a traditional fidelity was needed for the age of Reagan and the yuppie. Janet Maslin attributes “Fatal Attraction”'s zeitgeist success to the fact that “it arrived at the tail end of the having-it-all age, just before the impact of AIDS on movie reality was really felt.”