Film / Fatal Attraction

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"I'm not going to be IGNORED, Dan!"
Alex Forrest

Fatal Attraction is a 1987 thriller directed by Adrian Lyne, about a married man named Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) who has sex with a co-worker named Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) while his wife and child are away. Dan expects their affair to just be a one-night stand, but Alex, who is a bit on the unbalanced side, has other ideas.

Alex attempts suicide when Dan explains to her that he has to get back home and get on with his life. He tries to put the affair behind him, but Alex will not let go, and stalks Dan with the intent of getting him back, and as Dan continues to turn her down, Alex gets increasingly unhinged, reaching into his life and his family with devastating effect. It gets to the point where Dan and his family have to move, but Alex still won't leave them alone, continuing to stalk them, her obsession turning to hatred over time, culminating in a horrific scene which coined the phrase "bunny boiler." Dan, who originally wanted to keep the affair secret from his wife, now has to protect his family from a psychotic woman who is willing to do anything, even kill, in order to get her man.

Fatal Attraction was the second highest grossing movie of 1987, was nominated for several Academy Awards, and became hugely popular both in the United States and internationally. Alex Forrest was cited as a notable film example of someone with erotomania. The movie was also the cause of much discussion about marital infidelity (and the Double Standard gender politics involved in the Stalking Is Love trope) for a good while afterward.

Not to be confused with Fatal Instinct.

This film contains examples of:

  • Adult Fear: Alex kidnapping Ellen. It's not just every parent's worst nightmare, but all the elements surrounding it—that your child could go off with a stranger just because he/she seemed nice, that other adults who should have protected your child would instead let them go, that someone could have been watching and stalking your child, just waiting for the right moment to snatch them. And even though Ellen is returned safely, the cold hard fact is that Alex could have harmed her if she wanted to. Dan's demeanor in the police station afterwards demonstrates how really and truly terrified he now is.
    • The possibility of ruining one's life because of one stupid mistake.
      " Jimmy, I'm scared. I don't want to lose my family."
  • All Men Are Perverts: If Dan had listened to his "big head" instead of his "little head" regarding Alex, none of this would have happened.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Mental health professionals have a field day trying to figure out precisely what's wrong with Alex, but many agree on Borderline Personality Disorder, as evidenced by the way she declares herself in love with Dan after one weekend and tries to kill herself when he leaves. Some have also speculated that she was a victim of sexually abuse, with her father the likely perpetrator.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Considering how Dan dumps Alex, you don't really feel sorry for him when she retaliates. The police don't even act at first. Until Alex kidnaps his daughter, Ellen.
    • Alex herself, by the end.
  • Ax-Crazy: Alex, although she doesn't seem like it at first.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Alex kills Ellen's pet rabbit and leaves it on the stove to boil.
  • Berserk Button: Alex kidnapping Ellen is the last straw for Dan.
  • Better Manhandle the Murder Weapon: Dan takes a butcher knife away from Alex after the fight at her apartment. Note the lingering closeup of his hand on the handle as he places it back on the counter. In the original ending, it's the same knife she uses to kill herself with and try to frame him for murder
  • Betty and Veronica: Beth (interestingly, a name very similar to Betty) and Alex.
  • Big Applesauce: A by-default case.
  • Break-In Threat/The Villain Knows Where You Live:
    • Alex shows up at Dan and Beth's apartment as someone supposedly interested in buying it, then later follows him to the family's new home and clearly continues stalking them unseen, as proven by her breaking into their home to kill Ellen's pet rabbit, kidnapping Ellen from her school, and breaking into the house again to kill his wife.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': And how. Many people saw what happened with Alex as "punishing" Dan for cheating on his wife.
  • Chekhov's Armoury: The final act of the film is rife with these:
    • Alex shows up at Dan and Beth's apartment, which foreshadows her following him to the family's new house, which itself foreshadows her later breaking into their house to kill their pet rabbit, and her kidnapping his daughter from her school. Even the breaking and entering plays into her showing up in their house in the film's final minutes.
    • There's even a Chekhov's Knife—the butcher knife Alex nearly stabs Dan with during the confrontation in her apartment plays a large role in both endings. In the original, she uses it to kill herself in an attempt to frame Dan for murder (note the lingering close-up of Dan's hand on the blade handle as he places it on the counter), while in the new ending, Alex brings it to the house in her attempt to kill Beth.
    • The wife fills a bathtub in preparation for a soak. Suffice it to say, it comes in handy during the final confrontation.
    • And Chekhovs Words. Beth outright tells Alex that she'll kill her if Alex comes near her family again. Alex does show up at the end...
    • And the best example—we see a revolver in Dan's drawer. It is used in the end.
  • Children Are Innocent: Ellen, aside from being upset at the sight of her parents arguing and that Dan isn't at home. She is almost disturbingly cheerful while playing with Alex, completely unaware that she's been kidnapped, and apparently sleeps through all the commotion at the end.
  • Dead Animal Warning: As part of her reign of terror, Alex kills Ellen's pet rabbit and puts it on the Gallaghers' stove to boil.
  • Death Glare: Alex's first appearance is her giving one to Jimmy in response to his lame come-on.
    • Beth's father gives Dan one when he shows up at the hospital.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Alex snaps this at Dan when he tries to give her the brush-off.
  • Elevator Going Down: Alex and Dan's second sex scene.
  • Fake Pregnancy: A possible interpretation of Alex's claim to pregnancy, as she never actually provides any objective evidence of it.
  • Fanservice: A love scene between Dan and Beth has her in lingerie as he caresses her, with a prominent shot of her midriff and legs.
    • Alex has her moments too, but surprisingly downplayed.
  • Femme Fatale: Alex is an interesting spin on this, in that her arc isn't about "using" Dan so much as punishing him for "ignoring" her.
  • Film Noir: One of the most well-known of the neo-noir variety, especially with its play on the Femme Fatale archetypes.
  • Focus Group Ending: The original ending wasn't that well-liked (at least in America. A Japanese version exists with the original ending). The director eventually included it on a special edition VHS as a bonus, and it's also on the DVD and Blu-Ray.
  • Foreshadowing: Early on, Dan and Alex listen to Madame Butterfly at Alex's house; Dan recalls first going to see the opera as a little boy, and how scared he was by Cio-Cio San's suicide at the end. This foreshadows the film's original ending, in which Alex herself commits suicide (to the tune of Madame Butterfly, no less) and frames Dan for her murder. However, this scene was cut from the final film (see "Focus Group Ending"), so it's actually an aversion.
    Beth: (to Alex over the phone)"This is Beth Gallagher. If you ever come near my family again I will kill you. Do you understand me?"
    • Alex calls Dan the day after their fling and refuses to take "no" for an answer regarding him coming over again, hinting at her obsessive personality.
  • Freudian Excuse: Strongly implied with Alex, as a major emphasis is made on her father's suicide when she was a young girl.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Alex isn't a "good girl", but she consciously decides against aborting Dan's baby. Not on any particular moral grounds, but because between her age and her fertility issues, she fears it's her last chance to have a child.
  • Good People Have Good Sex: An interesting spin on this trope, in that the love scenes between Dan and Beth are always filmed as quite tender and pleasurable. The fling with Alex, however constantly comes across as rather comical, and Dan doesn't seem nearly as satisfied with her as one would expect.
  • Happily Married: Odd example, considering that the crux of the movie is the fact that Dan cheats on his wife, but all scenes before and after his weekend fling with Alex indicate that he adores his wife and is genuinely remorseful about the affair even before Alex goes off the deep end.
  • I Have This Friend...: Fed up with Alex's crazed behavior, Dan goes to the police on behalf of a "client" who wants to stop an ex from harassing him. Aside from being completely unsympathetic and unhelpful, the cop he speaks to clearly knows Dan is talking about himself.
  • Idiot Ball: Dan for apparently not using any protection when he slept with Alex, as evidenced by him asking her about her birth control method. This at a time when the AIDS crisis was slowly but surely becoming more of a worrisome social issue, not to mention the myriad of other STDs out there. Alex as well, who opens her door without looking through the peephole, asking who it is, or having a chain lock on—highly stupid in a city like New York, even more so when you've just kidnapped a man's daughter and the man might just be a tad upset about this.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted regarding Ellen's poor rabbit, but played straight with Ellen herself. Also averted with Alex's unborn child.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Alex calls Dan out on his insistence that "I have a whole relationship with someone else", asking, "Then what the hell were you doing with me?" Later, even as her behavior gets crazier and crazier, she continues to be adamant that Dan has a legal and moral obligation to the child she's carrying. As far off the deep end as she is, she's right.
    • Dan himself, who truthfully points out that he never lied to her about his marital status, nor led her on to think that he would leave his wife for her.
  • Jump Scare: After Dan drowns Alex in the bathtubs and assumes her to be dead, she suddenly comes back to life and springs out of the tub, waving her knife, until Beth shoots her.
  • Karma Houdini: Alex in the original ending. Although it looks like Beth will be able to clear her husband's name and thus foil Alex's "revenge", still, Alex is dead on her own terms, and thus can't suffer any reprisals.
    • Dan: Commits adultery, breaking & entering, assault and intimidation. He nevers faces any legal consequences for his crimes against Alex. His rabbit gets killed, his innocent wife gets hospitalized, but he suffers very little physical harm. He never has to take responsibility for his unborn child. And in the end, his wife apparently decides to take his lying, cheating ass back. Basically, everyone else suffers more for his transgressions than he does.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Alex in the new ending. How appropriate that the cuckolded wife is the one who gets gets to shoot her husband's lover.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Alex claims she's gotten pregnant, and when Dan confronts her about her lack of protection, she notes she's assumed that she was infertile due to a traumatic miscarriage she had the previous year.
  • Light Equals Hope: After Dan has rejected her, Alex siths on the floor of her apartment with a broken lamp. She has the switch in her hand and is clicking it back and forth. Click: lights on. Click: lights off. It's an indication she's (consciously or unconsciously) weighing her choices. Lights: leave him alone and move on with her life. Dark: Go all vengeful stalker and ruin his life. At the end of the scene she clicks the switch one last time to leave her sitting in darkness. Her behavior becomes increasingly unhinged from that point forward.
  • Light Is Not Good: Alex is frequently dressed in white.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: Alex.
  • Love Makes You Evil: See above. At least, once she goes so far as to kidnap Ellen and boil her bunny.
  • Manly Tears: Dan at Beth's bedside following her accident, as it finally sinks in how close he came to losing his family.
  • Mama Bear/Papa Wolf: Beth and Dan, given their reactions to the threats against Ellen.
  • Mood Dissonance: Alex and Ellen having a lovely time at the amusement park. Never mind that it's in the course of a kidnapping. As well, their happiness juxtaposed with Beth's frantic efforts to find Ellen.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Alex tries to do this to Dan's wife Beth in the end.
  • My Biological Clock Is Ticking: Alex's explanation for why she's choosing to keep Dan's baby rather than aborting it.
  • Not Good with Rejection: Alex in regards to Dan. Big time.
  • Oh, Crap!: "My wabbit, My wabbit!"
  • Police Are Useless: Dan's initial pleas to the cops are ignored with them basically having the attitude that he brought it on himself by having the affair with Alex, but also truthfully pointing out that he has no proof that it was she who vandalized his car and that there isn't much they can do regarding her harassment (stalking laws either didn't exist back then or were very weak and usually geared towards women being targeted by men, not the other way around). After Alex snatches Ellen, it's obvious Dan holds the cops equally responsible for failing to act when he first complained.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: In her tape to Dan, Alex accuses him of being a "flaming fucking faggot".
  • Sanity Slippage: The more Dan tries to distance himself from Alex, the crazier she gets.
  • Society Marches On: Stalking laws are much better now than they were back then. Dan would have been able to put a stop to Alex's behavior or have her arrested much sooner.
  • Stalker With a Crush: Alex, to the extent of being an alternate Trope Namer under "Bunny Boiler".
  • Ten Movie Plots: Blake Snyder of Save the Cat fame calls this movie a classic Monster in the House plot with Alex as a Domestic Monster, and the sin that unleashes the monster being adultery.
  • Vapor Wear: Alex has no concept of wearing a bra, apparently.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: Alex is clearly throwing up in the bushes at the sight of Dan and his happy family, but we only hear it.
  • Wall Bang Her: Alex and Dan's first sex scene is against the sink/cupboards in her apartment. Their second is against the wall of an elevator.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Dan's lawyer buddy and his wife, apparently good friends with Dan and his wife, disappear halfway through the movie. The lawyer's last scene is warning Dan that Alex could sue him for child support, but that's the last we see of him.
  • What Have I Become?: Dan has a moment of realization when almost kills Alex, realizing he can't bring himself to sink to her level.
  • Woman Scorned: Alex, especially near the end.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Dan slams Alex against the wall and threatens to kill her when she threatens to tell Beth about their fling, then comes this close to strangling her after she kidnaps Ellen.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Alex has no problem breaking Ellen's heart by killing her pet rabbit. And although she returns Ellen unharmed, it's obvious that she wanted to terrify her parents with the very real possibility that she could have harmed her if she wanted to.
  • Yandere: Alex. Holy shit, Alex. (Know why this movie was a huge hit in Japan? There you go.) Her #7 placement on AFI' s "Villains" List is well earned. She's so much of this, that the Western synonym of "Yandere" is named for her most famous crime in the movie ("Bunny Boiler").
  • Your Cheating Heart: Sets up the plot.

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