Cinema: Killer! Fatal Attraction strikes gold as a parable of sexual guilt

  • Share
  • Read Later

(3 of 8)

Audiences can be led, stretched, manipulated, but ultimately each moviegoer makes up his own movie, finding motivations that are unvoiced in the picture, explanations for behavior undreamed of by the screenwriter. Fatal Attraction is an astonishing beneficiary of this consumer creativity. The picture is like Velcro: any theory can attach itself to the story and take hold. As Lansing says, "It's a Rorschach test for everyone who sees it." Is Alex worth our sympathy, pity, fear, loathing, or all of the above? Outside the Evergreen Theater in suburban Chicago, Rochelle Major says, "I had to believe that Alex had been hurt deeply before. She was lonely, didn't have a family like Dan did, and when he wanted to get her out of his life, she just went nuts on him." But once the horror-movie mechanism begins turning in the last two reels of Fatal Attraction, the audience revels in its hatred of Alex's villainy. "Alex is sick," says Ned Tanen, president of Paramount Pictures, "not some predatory creature feeding on men. No one ever doubts that she is pregnant with Dan's child. Yet at the end you hear the audience screaming 'Kill her! Kill the bitch!' "

Ever since the movie industry ceded to TV its place as the American family art form, Hollywood has believed in this truism: the basic unit of movie audiences is the dating couple; the woman usually chooses the movie, and the successful picture will be the one she wants to take her man to see. Even in the '80s. Especially in the late '80s, a time of retrenchment along the sexual front lines. Pandemic viruses are imposing a puritan morality on the would-be- wild young. Sleeping arrangements are seen as a matter of life and death. Folks on dates don't know whether to cross their legs or their fingers. So, dear, what's playing at the Cineplex tonight? Answer: a host of movies, mostly in the newly revitalized thriller genre, that exploit the itch and edginess in right-now relationships. Fatal Attraction is the leader, but others have similar themes and might deserve similar titles. Among them:

"Naval Attraction." In the summer-fall hit No Way Out, an officer in U.S. naval intelligence (Kevin Costner) has a dangerous love affair with the Washington mistress (Sean Young) of the Secretary of Defense (Gene Hackman). It begins as hot reckless sex in the back seat of a limo and climaxes in death and betrayal. No Way Out keeps escalating past passion into mortal power struggles, in which the guilty are forever eliminating the slightly less guilty. But the film rescores, in melodrama's high pitch, the lament of any bright woman with a healthy carnal appetite: Why do men insist that you be either Donna Reed or Donna Rice?

"Fatal Infection." In Kathryn Bigelow's bleak, gross, great-looking horror movie Near Dark, an Oklahoma farm lad falls for an alluring blond from parts unknown. She seems interested in him, so why won't she give him a little love bite? Because, as he realizes too late, he will end up with the world's most toxic hickey. His dream girl is a vampire, and abstinence is the only sure precaution against infection. It takes several harrowing nights with her rambunctious vampire pals, who kidnap his kid sister, before he can escape from the Land of the Undead. Near Dark has filmmaking finesse to spare, but puts its dank characters on display rather than cadging sympathy for them. It is the Blue Velvet of date-night spook shows.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8