The Hero’s Journey in “Fatal Attraction”

“Fatal Attraction” is a spellbinding psychological thriller.

Because the good things in the movie – including the performances – are so very good, it’s a shame that the film’s potential for greatness was somewhat compromised.

The story stars Michael Douglas as a lawyer who has been happily married for nine years, has a 6-year-old daughter, loves his wife and has no particular problems on the day he meets an intriguing blond (Glenn Close) at a business party. She makes it her business to get to know him, and one weekend when Douglas’s wife and daughter are out of town visiting his in-laws, he invites the blond out to dinner.

She finds him willing to be seduced, and they have wild, passionate sex. Their couplings take place in a freight elevator, on the kitchen sink and, I think, in bed. The film was directed by Adrian Lyne whose ideas of love and genital acrobatics seem more or less equivalent.

Douglas has made it clear that he’s a happily married man and that he sees their meeting as a one-night stand (“Two adults who saw an opportunity and took advantage of it”), but Close doesn’t see it that way. The moment sex is over for her, capture begins, and she starts a series of demands on Douglas’s time and attention.

He tells her to get lost. She grows pathological. She visits him at the office, calls him at home in the middle of the night, throws acid on his car, visits his wife under the pretext of buying their apartment. Desperate to keep his secret and preserve his happy marriage, Douglas tries to reason with her, threaten her and even hide from her, but she is implacable.

The early and middle passages of the movie are handled with convincing psychological realism; James Dearden’s dialogue sounds absolutely right, especially the way he allows the Close character to bait her hook with honeyed come-ons and then set it with jealousy, possessiveness and finally guilt (after she says, inevitably, that she is pregnant).

Having created a believable and interesting marriage between Douglas and Anne Archer (who is wonderful as his wife), and having drawn Close as a terrifying and yet always plausible other woman, I hoped the film would continue to follow its psychological exploration through to the end. I wanted, for example, to hear a good talk between Douglas and Archer, in which truth was told and the strength of the marriage was tested. I wanted to see more of the inner workings of Close’s mind. I wanted to know more about how Douglas really felt about the situation. Although he grows to hate Close, is he really completely indifferent to the knowledge that she carries his child?

“Fatal Attraction” clearly had the potential to be an Oscar contender.