I Finally Watched 1987's ‘Fatal Attraction’ and...Am I the Only One Who Thinks Alex Isn't Really the Villain?

*Trigger warning: This film deals with potentially distressing subject matter*

Fatal Attraction was all the rage when it hit theaters in 1987. Millions of fans flocked to see the romantic thriller, which eventually garnered six Oscar nominations. Not only that, but the iconic film made history as the highest-grossing movie that year, spawning several more psychological thrillers throughout the late '80s and '90s.

So, why am I only watching this classic now, you ask? Well, for starters, I wasn't born yet when this movie dropped, and by the time I grew up, it had slowly fizzled out of my memory. But then came the news of a star-studded Paramount+ reboot and, suddenly, I felt compelled to finally watch the original. (FYI, the eight-episode series, starring Joshua Jackson and Lizzy Caplan, follows the same plot as the original film.)

We're all familiar with the premise by now: Michael Douglas is Dan, a happily married lawyer who starts a passionate affair with an editor named Alex Forrest (Glenn Close). However, when he tries to break things off, Alex's behavior gets pathological. As Dan desperately tries to sever ties and protect his family, Alex goes to extreme lengths to get his attention—even if this means putting his family in danger.

It's a terrifying cautionary tale about the moral issue of adultery and how it could lead to serious consequences. And while certain parts feel a bit dated, it's packed with great performances and the story has aged quite well. Still, as much as I appreciate the overall message, I have a bone to pick with the film. And it has everything to do with Alex's story arc.

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First, we need to talk about Close's mesmerizing performance as Alex. She goes from charming and seductive to sinister and unstable, but Close successfully adds nuance and depth to a deeply flawed character who's been dealt a bad hand. Even her facial expressions speak volumes, from her vulnerable moments with Dan to the time she spends alone in her apartment. Perhaps that's why it's so difficult for me to pin her as the bad guy. Even despite her toxic behavior, I know there's something more to her that I'm not seeing.

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Throughout the film, it's revealed that Alex has practically all the characteristics of borderline personality disorder, including impulsive behavior, insecurity, self-harming and emotional instability. As time progresses in the film, her behavior gets even more destructive. And as for Dan, viewers are made to empathize with him as he falls victim to her toxic behavior and confronts the possibility of losing his family. But here's the thing: No explanation is given as to why Alex acts the way she does. In fact, her mental health isn't even addressed in the film.

I find it really odd that a complex woman like Alex has little-to-no backstory. Aside from the newspaper clipping about the death of her father, there's no context given on how she grew up or what challenges she went through. Judging by her relationship with Dan, it's possible that she experienced severe trauma in past relationships or during her childhood, which would at least explain how she became the woman that she is. But without the full picture, she's a "jealous and crazy woman" who just wants to ruin Dan's life.

Sure, the argument could be made that if we knew more about all movie villains and their backstories, perhaps we would empathize with them more. But this "crazy-for-no-reason female" trope is something that deserves to be turned on its head with more deference paid to past traumas and to genuine mental illness.

fatal attraction
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Had the story been told through Alex's eyes, the film would've played out very differently. More people would empathize with her character because they'd understand that she's a troubled soul who needs help. And Dan would no longer be the victim. He'd be the self-centered lawyer who panicked at the thought of being held accountable for his mistakes and tried to take the easiest way out.

So yes, when I saw Alex pop up toward the end of the film wielding a knife, I may or may not have let out a sigh. It's the scene that supposedly solidified her as the crazed and irrational woman who'd stop at nothing to destroy Dan's happiness. But even now, I'm just not convinced that Alex is the true villain of the story. In fact, if you ask me, I'd be more inclined to give Dan the side-eye.

nakeisha campbell bio

Associate Editor, News and Entertainment

Nakeisha has been interviewing celebrities and covering all things entertainment for over 8 years, but she has also written on a wide range of topics, like career...