Fatal Attraction

Fatal Attraction

Fatal Attraction is a 1987 thriller about a married man who has a weekend affair with a woman who refuses to allow it to end and who becomes obsessed with him. It stars Michael Douglas, Glenn Close and Anne Archer. It was directed by Adrian Lyne. The film was adapted by James Dearden and Nicholas Meyer from an earlier short film by Dearden for British TV entitled Diversion. The movie closely follows the plot of Play Misty For Me (1970).

Fatal Attraction was a smash hit, becoming the second highest grossing film of 1987 in the United States and hugely popular internationally. Critics were enthusiastic about the film, and it received six Academy Award nominations, including that for Best Picture. The character of Alex Forrest has been cited as a notable film example of a person with borderline personality disorder. This film also gave birth to the phrase 'bunny boiler'.


Dan Gallagher is a successful, happily married New York attorney living in Manhattan when he meets Alex Forrest, an editor from a publishing company, through business. While his wife and his daughter are out of town for the weekend, Dan has a brief affair with Alex. What Dan thought would be a simple fling turns into a dangerous sequence of events when Alex begins to cling to him obsessively. Alex Forrest's mental instability initially surfaces when she attempts suicide after Dan explains to her that he must go home and get on with his life. Dan thinks the affair is forgotten, but Alex begins to show up at various places to see him. She is waiting for him at his office one day to apologize and invite him to the opera Madame Butterfly with her, but he turns her down. She then begins to call Dan's office until he tells his secretary he will no longer take her calls. Alex then starts calling Dan's home at all hours and then informs Dan that she is pregnant and planning to keep the baby. Although Dan wants nothing to do with her, she argues that he must take responsibility. Alex then shows up at Dan's apartment (which is for sale) and meets his wife, Beth, feigning interest as a buyer. Later that night, he goes to her apartment to confront her about her actions. In response, she replies, "Well, what am I supposed to do? You won't answer my calls, you change your number, I'm not going to be ignored, Dan!"

Dan moves his family to the New York village of Bedford (which was actually filmed in Mount Kisco). However, this doesn't deter Alex, who continues to fervently stalk him. She has a voice recording delivered to Dan and follows him home one night to spy on him, his wife Beth, and their daughter Ellen from the bushes in his yard; the sight of their family life literally makes her sick to her stomach. Alex's obsession, which grows stronger as time goes on, eventually turns into madness. Dan approaches the local police to apply for a restraining order against Alex (lying that it is "for a client"), to which a police lieutenant claims that he cannot violate Alex's rights without cause and that the adulterer has to own up to his free love attitude (arguably one of the few men to confront Dan about "what goes around comes around"). At one point, while the Gallaghers are away from home, Alex kills the pet rabbit of Dan's daughter Ellen, and puts it on their stove to boil.

Dan tells Beth of the affair and Alex's pregnancy; Beth becomes angry with Dan and asks him to leave. Before he goes, however, Dan calls Alex to tell her that Beth knows all about the affair. Beth then gets on the phone and warns Alex over the phone that if she persists, Beth will kill her. Alex kidnaps Ellen from schoo, though she brings Ellen home unharmed (after taking her to an amusement park--Rye Playland--and buying her ice cream). Meanwhile, Beth is injured in a car accident while searching in a panic for her child. Dan once again approaches the police about having Alex arrested. The police still say they lack cause to take action against her, although they can drive by his residence to watch for any intruders. Beth is briefly hospitalized and soon released. By this time, Beth has forgiven Dan and he returns home.

Finally, Alex becomes determined to eliminate what she sees as her main obstacle: Dan's wife. While Beth is in the bathroom, Alex suddenly appears behind her. As she attacks Beth with a butcher knife, Dan hears the screaming and runs in, wrestling Alex into the bathtub and drowning her... or so he thinks. She suddenly emerges from the water, swinging her knife at him. Beth, who had gone in search of Dan's recently-purchased gun, appears in the doorway and shoots her in the chest, instantly killing her. The police and EMTs arrive to take away Alex's dead body and have Dan and Beth provide an account of the attack. The film ends by focusing on a family photograph of Beth, Dan, and their daughter, showing the family is now reunited.


After its release, Fatal Attraction engendered much discussion of the potential consequences of infidelity. Feminists did not appreciate the depiction of Alex (Glenn Close's) character as a strong career woman who is at the same time profoundly psychotic, seeing in this an implication that all independent women are violently unstable. Feminist Susan Faludi discussed the film in her book "Backlash", arguing that major changes had been made to the original plot in order to make Alex wholly negative, while the carelessness and the lack of compassion and responsibility shown by Dan raised no discussion, except for a small number of fundamentalist men's groups who said that Dan was eventually forced to own up to his irresponsibility in that "everyone pays the piper".

The film has also had an effect on men. Glenn Close is quoted in 2008 as saying, "Men still come up to me and say, 'You scared the shit out of me.' Sometimes they say, 'You saved my marriage.'

Many critics felt that the film had done much to deglamorize casual sex during the height of the AIDS epidemic.

The film grossed US$156.6 million and was the 2nd highest grossing film of 1987 behind Three Men and a Baby.

Much of the movie's plot was spoofed in the 1993 comedy Fatal Instinct.

The movie is referenced in the 1993 romantic comedy Sleepless in Seattle. Jonah Baldwin wants his widowed father Sam, played by Tom Hanks, to go to New York to meet Annie (Meg Ryan), but Sam refuses because he has weekend plans with another woman (whom Jonah dislikes). In a heated argument, Sam tells Jonah there is no way he will fly to New York to meet a woman who could be a "crazy, sick lunatic". Sam then asks Jonah if he saw Fatal Attraction, to which Jonah replies, "You wouldn't let me!" Sam then continues, "Well I saw it! It scared the shit outta me! It scared the shit outta every man in America!"

Similarities to Play Misty for Me

Fatal Attraction follows the story of Play Misty for Me so closely that many critics felt it was a rip-off of Clint Eastwood's 1971 movie including Eastwood himself.

In both movies, a man has what he believes is a one night stand with a mysterious woman after she subtly talks him into doing so. Afterwards, the woman repeatedly shows up and contacts the man after he has made it clear that he is not interested and her efforts to get his attention become increasingly irrational and violent. She attempts suicide by slashing her wrists, forcing him to stay and care for her. When even this doesn't work, the woman vandalizes the man's property. The man first confides in a friend then confesses to his girlfriend/wife. The woman finally takes the girlfriend/wife hostage. All of these plot elements appear in both movies and in the same chronological order.

John Carpenter and Brian De Palma were each offered to direct and both passed largely due to their belief that the movie was too similar to Play Misty for Me.

Alternate ending

Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) was originally scripted to commit suicide at the end of the movie and make it look as if Dan (Michael Douglas) had murdered her, for which he would subsequently be arrested. Test audiences did not respond well to this finale, mainly due to the absence of revenge on the part of Beth and the family. Especially after Beth tells Alex, "If you come near my family again, I'll kill you."

This resulted in a three-week reshoot for the action-filled sequence in the bathroom and Alex's death by gun. Her shooting by Beth juxtaposes the two characters, with Alex becoming the victim and Beth taking violent action to protect her family.

Glenn Close states in the 2002 Special Edition DVD that she had had concerns about re-shooting the movie's ending because she believed, and was backed in this by psychiatrists, that the character would "self-destruct and commit suicide." She gave in on her concerns, however, and recorded the new sequence after having fought for two weeks not to change it.

On the DVD commentary by Adrian Lyne, he admitted the white contact lenses in Glenn's eyes was a big mistake when she is being strangled in the bath water in this new ending.


The film was nominated for 6 Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Glenn Close), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Anne Archer), Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Picture and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.

Borderline personality

The film's main character has been discussed by psychiatrists and film experts, and has been used as a film illustration for the psychiatric entity known as borderline personality disorder. She exemplifies the borderline personality's emotional instability and frantic efforts to avoid abandonment. Both plot variants, however, show a person who is more aggressive toward others than toward herself; whereas, in borderline personality disorder, aggression against oneself is the more usual case. This psychoanalysis does not include the presence of other psychological disorders.



The film was listed at #28 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Thrills in 2001 and the character of Alex Forrest was listed as the seventh greatest movie villain on AFI's 100 Greatest Movie Heroes & Villains in 2003.

See also

  • Mental illness in films
  • Murderlicious "Murderlicious: A Sweet and Sticky Fatal Attraction" is a haunting short story spin-off of the movie Fatal Attraction. Alex is back as the wife, and she's killing more than rabbits. (Free E-Book, professional layout, PDF.)


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