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Film / Fatal Attraction

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

Fatal Attraction is a 1987 thriller film directed by Adrian Lyne from a screenplay by James Dearden, based on his 1980 short film Diversion.

A married man named Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) 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.

In 2023, the film was adapted into a miniseries by Paramount+ with Joshua Jackson and Lizzy Caplan as Dan and Alex.

This film contains examples of:

  • All Men Are Perverts: Dan justifies the affair by Alex being available and his wife never finding out.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Did Alex really become pregnant as a result of her affair with Dan, or is she lying to force him to continue his extramarital relationship with her? The film does not definitively confirm this either way.
  • 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) is the Betty and Alex is the Veronica to Dan's Archie.
  • Big Applesauce: A by-default case.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Ellen's pet bunny is killed and an unborn child doesnít survive but Alex is finally killed and Dan and his family survive the ordeal, albeit with trauma.
  • Book Ends: The first and last times Dan goes to Alex's apartment, they're all over each other in the kitchen. The first time, they were having Wall Bang Her sex, the second, he's trying to kill her, fed up with her harassment and furious at her for kidnapping his daughter.
  • 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.
  • Coitus Uninterruptus: During their second tryst, this time inside an elevator, Dan and Alex almost get caught due to the elevator being almost visible to passengers walking up above. Alex continues to pleasure Dan while he pushes a button to make the elevator go down.
  • Daddy DNA Test: Dan attempts this by contacting Alex's doctor, then breaking into her apartment to see if she was lying or if someone else was the father of the baby.
  • Dead Animal Warning: As part of her reign of terror, Alex kills Ellen's pet rabbit and puts it in the Gallaghers' pressure cooker to boil.
  • Death of a Child: Ellen's poor rabbit and technically, Alex's unborn child.
  • 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.
  • Downer Ending: The original ending has this: Alex kills herself and Dan is arrested for her murder. The final scene though has the strong implication he'll be cleared as Beth discovers the tape recording from Alex, confessing to Dan that she wants to kill herself. The trauma for the family is still bound to be there though regardless of the outcome.
  • Driver Faces Passenger: Beth is too focused on looking for Ellen that she almost runs over a pedestrian and collided onto an oncoming vehicle.
  • Elevator Going Down: Alex and Dan's second sex scene.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Alex could've easily done something horrible to Ellen when she kidnapped her from school, but instead she takes her to a theme park.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Dan doesn't notice Alex lurking right in front of the car rental place that he pulls out of, waiting to follow him home.
  • Fake Pregnancy: A possible interpretation of Alex's claim to pregnancy, as she never actually provides any objective evidence of it. Her Stalker with a Crush obsession with the alleged babydaddy gives her ample reason for such a ruse as well.
  • Fan Disservice: A shot of Alex's panties as Dan attempts to strangle her in the boiling hot bathtub.
  • 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.
    • The sex scenes between Dan and Alex in her apartment and in the elevator.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: Then again this doesn't mean it gives her any special right to kidnap Ellen or trying to kill the totally innocent wife Beth. They don't have anything to do with Dan's actions or everything Alex's been through.
  • Get Out!: Alex screams this at Dan after he attempts to leave her apartment to go back home to his family.
    • Beth's reaction after Dan confesses everything bad that happened to their family was because of his infidelity.
  • 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.
  • Gray Rain of Depression: Despite having been a nice day up until that point, it's pouring as Dan prepares to admit his affair with Alex to Beth.
  • 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.
  • Hypocrite: "YOU'RE A STUPID, SELFISH BITCH!" Said by Alex to Beth, the woman she cucked.
  • 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.
  • Imperiled in Pregnancy: Subverted in and out of universe. Dan doesn't actively plan to kill Alex because she's pregnant, but he has no problem threatening to do so and outright trying to in a fit of rage despite knowing that she is. Out universe, Glenn Close learned she was pregnant after being rushed to the hospital after being injured filming the finale. Mercifully, the baby was unharmed, but the scene still unnerves her.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Ellen survives her encounter with Alex (to be fair, it's never clear if Alex intended to harm her in the first place).
  • Innocent Swearing: Ellen walks down the hall cheerfully saying, "Shit, shit, shit", after hearing her mother say the same thing (she had just spilled some makeup).
  • 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, while also pointing out that Alex had previously agreed they would go their separate ways, which means that he had the right when to choose when to leave.
  • Jump Scare: After Dan drowns Alex in the bathtub 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 never 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.
  • Kick the Dog: Alex slaughtering and cooking Ellen's little bunny rabbit was an unnecessarily cruel act.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Alex in the new ending. How appropriate that the cuckolded wife is the one who gets to shoot her husband's lover. It's also fitting how Alex gets drowned in a boiling hot bathtub by Dan after what she did to Ellen's rabbit.
  • 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 sits 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.
  • Love Triangle: Dan/Beth/Alex.
  • 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.
  • Mirror Scare: How Alex surprises Beth before attempting to kill her.
  • Moment of Weakness: When Beth and Ellen leave the home for an extended period of time, Dan ends up getting into a one-night stand with Alex. This is despite it being shown before and after the affair that he's very much Happily Married to Beth. Dan afterwards seems to be genuinely remorseful that he allowed himself to give into temptation, even before it turns out Alex is crazy.
  • 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 is 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.
  • No Animals Were Harmed: Averted in the bunny boiler scene, as a real dead rabbit was boiled.
  • Not Staying for Breakfast: Dan returns home to his family after spending the night with Alex.
  • Not Good with Rejection: Alex in regards to Dan. Big time.
  • Oh, Crap!: "Daddy? Lady's gone! Lady's gone!"
    • The look on Dan's face when he sees Alex waiting in his office to talk to him.
    • The look on Dan's face when he returns to his new home from work to find Alex talking with his wife Beth.
    • Dan's reaction when he sees blood smeared on his face and notices Alex's slit wrists.
    • Dan's reaction when Alex tells him she is pregnant.
  • 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". Doubles as Values Dissonance, as homophobia was rampant in the 1980s, and calling someone a "faggot" was viewed, in most circles, as a particularly strong insult rather than the mark of a homophobe.
  • Really Gets Around: Dan assumes Alex was this when she tells him she is pregnant. Alex tells him otherwise.
  • Revealing Hug: Alex asks for a goodbye hug from Dan, then he wipes blood from his face, revealing that she had slit her wrists.
  • Relationship-Salvaging Disaster: After Beth's near-fatal car accident, she and Dan reconcile.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Alex delivers one to Beth before attempting to kill her.
    Alex: What are you doing here? Why are you here? He say goodbye to me last night. But he couldn't because..he and I feel the same way about each other. Do you know what it is when you meet somebody for the first time? And you get this instant attraction. And don't you think I understand what you're doing? You're trying to move him into the country... and you're keeping him away from me. And you're playing happy family. Aren't you? You wouldn't understand that because you're so... so selfish. He told me about you. He told me about you. He was very honest. If you weren't so stupid, you'd know that. But you're so stupid. You're so stupid... you're a stupid, selfish bitch!
  • Sanity Slippage: The more Dan tries to distance himself from Alex, the crazier she gets.
  • Sex Equals Love: What Alex believes after sleeping with Dan.
  • Sexual Karma: 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.
  • Self-Harm: Alex slits her wrists when Dan returns home to his family. Later, she cuts her leg and thigh with her own knife before attempting to kill Beth.
  • The Sociopath: While the film was intended to explore a character who has textbook BPD who had been "wronged" by her lover, more realistically Alex would probably come off as also having comorbid case of this (Antisocial Personality Disorder surpisingly only requires three out of seven criteria), as many have pointed out. She starts committing crimes that she keeps at in which she feels revenge is justified at Dan with not much remorse, including killing an animal in a gruesome way, and had little regard for the consequences of her action to anyone including herself. Ironically, this interpretation of Alex was not what the filmmakers saw her as, and was a large factor in why test audiences wanted her to get what was coming.
  • Spiteful Suicide: This is a What Could Have Been for Alex, who kills herself with a knife which has Dan's fingerprints on it, to frame him. Test audiences didn't like it and demanded: "That BITCH has to die!"
  • Spurned into Suicide: Alex, in the original ending.
  • STD Immunity: At a time when the AIDS crisis was kicking into high gear—as well as the myriad of other venereal diseases out there, Dan has unprotected sex with Alex, yet doesn't catch anything or even seem worried about the possibility. Granted, at the time, AIDS was only popularly considered to be a threat to gay was not until the 90s where straight people started to worry about possible infection.
  • 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.
  • Tranquil Fury: Dan appears perfectly calm when driving to Alex's place, even when he rings the bell, but it's not all shocking when he absolutely explodes when she opens the door and immediately sets about attacking her.
  • 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.
  • Wacky Cravings: Possibly from her pregnancy. Alex is shown snacking on Oreo cookies, Doritos chips, Häagen-Dazs ice cream and other junk foods while attempting to contact Dan.
  • 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.
  • Wham Line: Alex to Dan: "I'm pregnant".
  • Wham Shot: The empty bunny cage and the dead pet bunny in the boiling pan courtesy of Alex.
  • 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 he almost kills Alex, realizing he can't bring himself to sink to her level.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: Alex's warped view of her relationship with Dan is a match for the plot of her favorite opera, Madame Butterfly. In the play, the Japanese Butterfly marries an American and bears his child, but he has no intention of loving her forever and leaves her for an American wife, driving her to despair. In the film's original ending, the resonance is even stronger: Alex, like Butterfly, commits suicide when it's clear she'll never have the love she wants.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Beth calling out Dan on his actions after he confesses his infidelity.
  • Who's Your Daddy?: Dan immediately questions the illegitimate baby's father when Alex tells him she is pregnant with his baby.
  • Woman Scorned: Alex, especially near the end.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: One possible interpretation of Alex. While she does a ton of horrible things she is clearly very mentally ill. Had she been captured alive and put in a mental hospital she may well have gotten better.
  • 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.
    • Whether Alex was pregnant or not, it still didn't stop Dan from having to kill her to protect himself.
  • 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").
  • Yuppie: This movie typified the subgenre occasionally referred to as "yuppies in peril". Dan is an example of a yuppie who has (in theory) chosen family life, as a Manhattan lawyer who lives in a refurbished suburban house with his young daughter and stay-at-home wife. Dan uses his city, corporate existence to sleep with Alex Forrest. She lives in a swanky, gentrified apartment, and she is an apparently happily single, independent publishing executive (and she's a huge fan of shoulder pads). Except her supposedly "bohemian", openminded lifestyle is actually a front because she goes absolutely crazy in her pursuit of Dan's suburban lifestyle.