When it came out in 1987, “Fatal Attraction” gave male viewers quite a jolt. Imagine a fling turning into a nightmarish obsession that traumatizes a family and nearly ends a marriage. The film also is a sad testament to the power of test audiences: The ending was changed for make audiences more comfortable instead of staying true to the characterizations.
The movie was adapted from a short film that James Dearden made in 1980 for British Television and was adapted by Dearden and Nicholas Meyer. With the last-minute re-write, the cast had to return for a three-week reshoot. The original ending is available on the 2002 Special Edition DVD.
In the movie, a New York attorney, Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas), meets an editor of a publishing company, Alex Forrest (Glenn Close), through business. While his wife, Beth (Anne Archer) and his daughter, Ellen (Ellen Hamilton Latzen) are away, Dan had a fling with Alex.
Although Dan is ready to move on, Alex is not. She persistently asks him out and when he finally comes over to her place for an evening, she attempts to commit suicide. He “saves” her and puts bandages on her slashed wrists, but she’s still not ready to call it quits. She invites him to a performance of “Madame Butterfly,” which should mean something in this movie, but the changed ending mostly robs the opera of its significance. Dan turns her down, but Alex will not be ignored. She introduces herself to Beth and she even slips into their house and kills Ellen’s rabbit, but leaving it boiling on the stove.
Dan finally tells Beth about the affair and that Alex claims she is pregnant. She asks Dan to leave because she’s not “stand by your man” type of woman, but Alex’s escalating actions forces Dan and Beth together. Alex even picks up Ellen at work, causing Beth to have an accident as she panics and searches fearfully for her child.
With this last outrage, Dan goes to Alex’s apartment and threatens her. This is where the ending changes. Instead of Alex listening to “Madame Butterfly” while committing suicide, Alex and Beth will fight it out back at Beth and Dan’s home. The women are fighting over a man with the scruples and sensitivity of an alley cat? Are women really that desperate? I guess it’s only romantic when an Asian woman commits suicide for the love of a man who has moved on (“Madame Butterfly” or “Miss Saigon”), but not something that Americans want to see white women doing for a white guy.
Still the movie received six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Supporting Actress, Best Directing, Best Film Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay. “The Last Emperor” won for Best Picture, and Cher won for Best Actress and Olivia Dukakis won for Best Supporting Actress (both for “Moonstruck”).
The movie is available on Netflix and Amazon Instant, although not with the alternative or original ending. In this case, it might be better to buy a DVD or Blu-ray and watch it with the original ending.