Why we still can't resist that fatal attraction
Published 17/05/2010 | 05:00
She was seduced then immediately spurned, but very unsportingly refused to take no for an answer -- and now she's back to haunt philandering married men everywhere. It's been over two decades since Glenn Close played the deranged lover of Michael Douglas in Fatal Attraction, but no one who saw the iconic film in 1987 can ever forget the gobstopper eyes, the bubble perm, and the sorry fate of the family pet.
A stage version of the chilling movie is due to open in the West End next year. Given that nowadays a frisson ripples across the auditorium when a character is daring enough to light a cigarette on stage, one can only imagine the cognitive dissonance when the stalls are exposed to the appalling, yet-mouth-watering, aroma of slow-cooked coney.
But the audience would "demand their money back" if that classic moment when Alex Forrest boils the rabbit of her lover's daughter were not included, says James Dearden, who wrote the original screenplay for the Oscar-nominated blockbuster and is creating the stage version.
But do we really need a remake of what was essentially a piece of misogynistic 1980s hokum? When it was released in 1987, Fatal Attraction promised to make a generation of men think twice about having an affair. In truth, the film's most enduring legacy was less any curtailment in philandering than the introduction of the derogatory expression 'bunny-boiler' into the popular lexicon. These days it is used routinely to describe any woman who refuses to creep away in quiet disgrace after the end of an affair.
"There's something horribly disempowering about the idea that it's psychotic for a woman to be upset or angry about rejection," says Natasha Walter, author of The New Feminism and Living Dolls. "In our culture women are supposed to take their emotional lives quite lightly, and if a woman doesn't, then she's branded a lunatic and a bunny boiler.
'I didn't like the film first time around; it was a product of its time and was very hard on women, and I can't see there's any real need for it to be revived."
Some concessions will be made to modern mores, however. The character of Forrest will apparently be softened from crazy-lady-with-a-knife to a "depressed loner". This may be an attempt to move with the times, but if so, it falls far short of the mark, says David Kavanagh, marriage therapist from Avalon Relationship Consultants.
"Although she was portrayed as a bit of a psycho, deep down Glenn Close was a 'depressed loner' in the original too," says Kavanagh. "I would describe the character of Alex as someone with deep abandonment issues. She put Dan up on a pedestal and wasn't able to deal with being rejected by him, becoming violent to manage the stress."
"To genuinely reflect the age we live in, her character should be married, too. Married women have more opportunity to stray than ever before. Whereas in the past they were expected to stay at home, there are now more women than men in the workplace. "
The late James Goldsmith, noted for his colourful private life, once cynically observed: "When a man marries his mistress, he creates a job vacancy." If a mistress is also married, in theory, she has as much to lose from the relationship being discovered and therefore has a vested interest in maintaining a dignified silence when a dalliance ends. But even if the family pet remains unscathed, the fallout can be horrendous.
"There are lots of different motivations that drive people to have an affair -- from feeling lonely to craving great, casual sex. For women who juggle their career with motherhood and marriage, it may be an escape from that pressure. While studies have found that men are most likely to cheat after their wife gives birth because, childish as it may be, they suddenly feel second place," says Kavanagh.
"Apart from the obvious devastating effects of an affair on a marriage, I've seen whole families torn apart by infidelity.
'There is life after infidelity, however -- but there's no quick fix. It's takes years of work to repair broken trust."
Psychotherapists may wrongly urge patients to 'forgive and forget', as if you can simply get over it.
"My advice is to trust your gut as to whether you think the relationship can be salvaged.
"In Fatal Attraction, the wife, Anne Archer, was portrayed as a virtual saint. But sometimes the wife can be just as much of a wrong-doer as the mistress. If you're ignoring your partner, refusing to engage emotionally or sexually with him or not making any attempt to save the marriage, an affair can be a by-product of those things."
Ironically, advances in communication methods have done the opposite for many a marriage. Mobiles, the internet, texting, sexting and tweets have all made cheating a lot easier than the days when Close made crank calls to Douglas on a landline. In her new novel In Office Hours, an expose of illicit sex in the workplace, journalist Lucy Kellaway uncovers the steamy goings-on behind the corporate facade of city institutions.
"People look more attractive at work," she says of the odd matches that often ensue after a chance encounter at the water cooler.
"There is an element of play-acting and posturing around the office. I think that's quite sexy."
Kellaway, who is married with four children, points to the recent phenomenon of the rise of the "office spouse" -- a close male colleague with whom women exchange flirty emails and jokes. These relationships operate in a strictly platonic arena, are conducted quite openly and regarded as perfectly innocent (although not necessarily by the real spouses), but, as she notes: "If you fall in love with your office spouse, it's a catastrophe."
There's a high risk that you might just do that: surveys have revealed that one in four workers have engaged in an office fling, but the unpalatable truth is that when such relationships become public knowledge, the woman is judged far more harshly than the man.
Columnist Terry Keane came off worst when she confessed to a 27-year affair with former Taoiseach Charles Haughey on The Late Late Show in 1999.
'There's still this nonsensical notion that men are somehow less in control of their sexual urges than women," says Kavanagh. "Socially, men who embark on affairs get off more lightly than women who do the same.
"Nowadays we have a very confused attitude to fidelity. On the one hand, it's considered the number one rule of marriage. On the other, expecting a twenty-something to commit to having sex with the same person for the rest of their lives could be like asking them to wear a chastity belt."
In spite of the consequences, some mistresses -- and their keepers -- are unblushing when it comes to indulging in extramarital activities.
While pants-down celebrity cheats such as Tiger Woods, Hugh Grant, Jesse James, David Letterman and Bill Clinton were all forced to own up to their affairs by twists of fate, others make no secret of their illicit love.
There was no skulking around seedy hotels late at night for gangster Martin Cahill and his mistress -- The General shared a bed with both his wife Frances and her sister Tina Lawless for years and fathered nine children with both women.
And Samuel Beckett's long-term lover, Barbara Bray, who died earlier this year aged 85, was widely accepted as the Nobel Prize-winning author's intellectual soulmate -- even tolerated by his wife Suzanne.
It's a far cry from the time when Charles Stuart Parnell became the victim of political homicide after Captain William O'Shea named him as co-respondent in divorce proceedings against his wife Kitty.
Parnell didn't contest the claims and duly married disgraced Kitty.
But perhaps at a subconscious level, that sort of triumph of love over adversity is why Fatal Attraction makes for such compelling viewing.
Maybe we all want to believe in fidelity and marriage, even if it means dividing womankind into either Madonnas or whores. It must be remembered, however, that meek Archer shoots Close dead in order to protect her family.
It would be nice to think that in the stage version, she dispatches Douglas instead.
Additional reporting by Deirdre Reynolds