There is a very serious problem with some ‘classics’ of the 1980s/1990s when the theme is strong and independent women: invariably they were either ‘tamed’ or antagonistic. The macho culture was so dominant and free that in films such as Fatal Attraction and Disclosure, the ‘victim’ was the toxic male (in both films, Michael Douglas) and the independent women were unbalanced. While 1994’s Disclosure got a lukewarm reaction, 1987’s Fatal Attraction landed at the Oscars with six nominations, including film and actress, with an iconic performance by Glenn Close. Maybe that’s why it was chosen for a remake, in the Paramount Plus series with Lizzy Kaplan and Joshua Jackson as the couple of lovers and eventual enemies.
Everything about Fatal Attraction screams machismo, even the fact that to this day it is summarized as a tale that shows “what can happen when you step out of line”, especially when conservatives used any argument, including the panic of the AIDS crisis, it was seen as a warning “for good manners”. Inspired by a situation that screenwriter James Dearden observed with friends who betrayed women, according to him, these unfaithful men began to be “harassed” by ex-lovers and he even had “a girlfriend who slit her wrists, in a very theatrical and not to kill herself” and “a good friend was pursued by this beautiful but crazy woman, and it was destroying his marriage,” he commented in an interview a few years ago. No surprise then that Alex Forrest then became the symbol of a woman with mental illness and psychological imbalance, the aggressive and independent woman who is a threat to the traditional family, who, deep down, wants the place of wife and mother, without measuring consequences to achieve the goal. Unfortunately, not even in 2023, the role has been revised.
Before becoming ‘fatal attraction’, the story was born as Diversion and was selected by Paramount, directed by Sherry Lansing at the time, to become a major production, with Adrian Lyne, acclaimed after Flashdance, taking over the direction. Michael Douglas was not yet the star of the decade in Hollywood, but he was already famous and respected so he was chosen to play Dan Gallagher. Glenn Close, on the other hand, went through a long convincing process for not being “beautiful” or “sexy” enough, having to prove to the studio that she had the necessary physical attributes to become an attractive woman, at least more than Kirstie Alley, Melanie Griffith, Michelle Pfeiffer, Susan Sarandon, Debra Winger, Jessica Lange, Judy Davis and Barbara Hershey, all considered before her and who declined the “challenge”. Glenn, one of the best American actresses ever at the time with no less than three Oscar nominations, (she was also nominated for Fatal Attraction), had to insist on being tested and proving that she could be Alex. “I had never played a character that was supposed to be sexy. I knew I could do this,” the actress commented on the role in a 2017 interview with New Your Times. Yes, despite the character’s problems, Glenn Close’s performance is iconic.
In the film, unlike the series, Dan Gallagher and Alex Forrest get involved in what he thought was a casual weekend adventure and ends up becoming a nightmare for him, as they still describe, “the biggest mistake of his life”. Their sexual and intellectual connection is stronger than Alex anticipated and she changes her mind, starting to want something more with her married lover. Upon realizing that he will not convince him to leave his wife for her, who is pregnant, Alex enters a psychotic and violent spiral, trying to take his own life and then threatening Dan’s family, leading to a “fatal” conclusion. As Alex herself says in the film to Dan, “You thought you could just walk into my life and turn it upside down, without thinking about anyone but you”, adding “I will not be ignored”.
In the story, Dan is seduced by Alex, convinced that nothing will be asked of him and he sees himself as the ‘victim’ of an unbalanced woman. Glenn Close explained in another interview that “there weren’t a lot of details in the script about what led the character to react to the case the way she did”, so she took professional help from psychiatrists to understand Alex’s motivations. The research led her to build a story in which Alex would have been the victim of incest as a child by her father, creating a complex woman who has been abused repeatedly since then.
But what was most controversial was the conclusion of the story. In the original script, Alex takes his own life, trying to frame his former lover, but it is alleged that the public rejected the ending when it was auditioned before release. They needed to see the “madwoman being punished” more clearly and, preferably, “by the faithful wife,” Beth, played by Anne Archer, who had the full support of society “scared” by the threat of a mistress. The actresses were opposed to reshooting the final scene, and always expressed their opinions about the change, as Glenn anticipated, Alex would just become “a murderous psychopath”. But she ended up giving in and a second test proved that this was the expected ending, so still in the words of Glenn Close, “they had their catharsis spilling my blood.”
Without a doubt, Alex Forrest is a complex role that has been wronged, something that the remake of the series – so far – has not changed. Lizzy Kaplan has struggled under the shadow of a performance as brilliant as the film, and sadly, neither she nor Joshua Jackson is managing to bring an improvement to what was so successful.
The Fatal Attraction series makes a few changes: we start with Dan getting out of prison, where he was sentenced after the murder of his mistress, Alex Forrest (changed from editor to lawyer). But he claims innocence and tries to repair his fractured relationship with his daughter, Ellen while searching for “the real culprit”. The proposal then moves away from the film’s infamous ending. Unfortunately, the revelations of what would be the final conclusion may be spoilers.
Another change in the series, embraced by actress Lizzy Kaplan, is to show Alex’s past a little, to distance herself from the simplification that she calls “nice guy, horrible woman, must die” to better contextualize their relationship. That said, I didn’t see any ‘recovery’ in Alex’s portrayal: she’s still a troubled, obsessed woman. She is still wronged.
In 2023, the Fatal Attraction series fixes some flaws, like leaving Beth as passive or as an unambitious housewife, Dan is not shown as innocent, but, as aforementioned, Alex is still problematic. In fact, worse. What in the film is a casual business meeting, in the series is a plan of an unbalanced woman already interested in the married man, creating opportunities for seemingly occasional encounters that are part of a conquest strategy. Even placing him as an active part – he is not simply ‘seduced’ – and bringing Alex as a lawyer who works in Services for Victims, with empathy and commitment to her clients is good, but keeping her with psychological problems is rather placing the woman as an element of blame.
The final episodes haven’t aired yet, so there’s still room to stray from the original. Fatal Attraction 2023 tries to deceive us with Dan’s arrest and conviction, taking away from him the family he didn’t value when he embarked on the extra-marital affair, however, by minimally suggesting his ‘innocence’ of Alex’s murder, leading us to an investigation into what actually happened, repeats the main sin of the original. It’s Alex being the subject of catharsis again. At this point, the figure that transformed the “boiled rabbit” into an action of a “jealous woman” is frying the woman again. Even with her issues, we’re still ignoring Alex.