“The most fantastic thing about Mr. Fox is the way he shows that while our flaws can bring us down, sometimes, too, we triumph in spite of them and because of them.”
Nancy Churin, review of The Talented Mr. Fox
Dallas Morning News
“Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorn.”
The Mourning Bride (1697)
There are no speeches about the dangers of infidelity in the movie Fatal Attraction. No one says, “There is a proverb that goes, ‘For the lips of the adulteress drip honey, And smoother than oil is her speech; But in the end she is bitter like wormwood, Sharp as a two-edged sword.’” No, the film does what film does best, it visually and viscerally tells a story. Remember the old adage — show, don’t tell.
Back in the early 80s producer Stanley Jaffe saw a short film called Diversion by James Dearden and thought it had potential to be a feature. Jaffe’s producing partner Sherry Lansing agreed and they had Dearden write a feature script that both Jaffe and Lansing loved but was turned down by every major studio. Though Jaffe had won a Best Picture Oscar for producing Kramer vs. Kramer a few years earlier it was not thought there was an audience for a film like Fatal Attraction. (No one ever said winning an Oscar made finding funding any easier.)
It took them over four years to get the film made and it not only found a large audience but earned five Oscar nominations. Its altered ending is legendary and may have cost Glenn Close the Oscar, and while it’s possible that the original ending may have been better it also may have been less satisfying for audiences and released and forgotten. We’ll never know.
Here is a key scene in the movie that is a hybrid of the fourth draft of Fatal Attraction and the dialogue as spoken in the finished film. It’s a wonderful scene that captures the essence of fine screenwriting. The scene appears at 13:30 into the film after Dan (Michael Douglas) and Alex (Glenn Close) who are business associates have trouble getting a cab in the rain and end up sitting down for a drink.
It’s a scene full of subtleties and subtext. A display of simplicity and complexity. An interesting sidenote is the character Alex was originally named Eve, nothing subtle about that which was why it was probably changed.
(We pick up in the middle of the scene where they are sitting down at a restaurant. And you’ll have to endure the funky formatting because my WordPress isn’t allowing me to format this correctly.)
There is a brusqueness in her manner towards the WAITRESS, suggesting a certain lack of empathy with the other women. The WAITRESS goes off. Alex folds her hands and looks at Dan as if to say, ‘What next?’.
Ahh, it’s funny – being a lawyer’s
a bit like being a doctor. Everyone’s
telling you in their innermost secrets.
You must have to be discreet.
Am I what?
He looks at her, an ironic smile playing about his lips.
Yes, I’m discreet.
She holds his gaze. There is a moment of complicity.
Can I ask you something? Why don’t you have a
date tonight? Saturday night.
I did have a date. Stood him up, that was the phone
call I made. Does that make you feel good?
It doesn’t make me feel bad.
There is a momentary lull. Finally:
So where’s your wife?
Taken by surprise, Dan fumbles for his words.
Where’s my wife? My wife is in the country with
her parents visiting for the weekend.
And you’re here with a strange girl being a naughty boy.
Dan holds up his hands to protest his innocence.
I don’t think having dinner with anybody is a crime.
Will it be?
I don’t know, what do you think?
I definitely think it’s going to be up to you.
Alex smiles, She is enjoying the game.
Can’t say yet. I haven’t made up my mind.
At least you’re very honest.
We were attracted to each other at the party.
That was obvious. You’re on your own for
the night that’s also obvious. We’re two adults…
It’s a scene that was wonderfully written and acted. It was also well directed by Adrian Lyne. Dearden received and Oscar nomination for the script and the character Alex Forrest was named by AFI as the #7 villain in movie history.
Lastly, while Dearden did receive sole writing credit for Fatal Attraction, I should point out that Nicholas Meyer was brought in to do some additional writing. Meyer is a graduate of the University of Iowa (B.A.–Theater & Film) and best known for writing a couple Star Trek films, but he was also nominated for an Oscar for screenwriting The Seven-Per-Cent Solution that was based on his New York Times #1 bestselling novel of the same name. The Papers of Nicolas Meyer (working scripts, story ideas, galley proofs, reviews, etc.) are available for research at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
Related post: Screenwriting Quote of the Day #95 (Nicholas Meyer)