Tale of Two Endings: Fatal Attraction

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The new Fatal Attraction (2023) series was recently released, then quickly canceled, on Paramount +. Here is a look back on the controversial reception within America and overseas of the 1987 movie of the same name. While I have not seen the television series yet, and the quick cancellation of it can’t be a good sign, it’s left me interested in how the movie has been beloved while also being controversial. Fatal Attraction (1987) was dubbed a cult classic, and is an American erotic psychological thriller film directed by Adrian Lyne from a screenplay based on a short film Diversion by James Dearden. Fatal Attraction opened at #1 and stayed there for eight weeks, taking in $156.6 million domestically. The film also grossed $163.5 million internationally, bringing a total box office gross of $320.1 million against a $14 million budget, making Fatal Attraction the highest grossing film worldwide of 1987.
The film’s star-studded cast included Michael Douglas, Glenn Close, and Anne Archer. In the 2023 tv show, the star power is imitated by including Joshua Jackson, Lizzy Captain, and Alyssa Jirrels. The film received widespread critical acclaim, earning several Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Close), Best Supporting Actress (Archer), Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Film Editing, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Douglas), and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Archer), and won Best Editing.
So, how can a movie with so much critical, financial, and overall artistic success be surrounded in controversy
Tale of Two Endings: Fatal Attraction
The endings of Fatal Attraction are what created the buzz that surrounds the film. Fatal Attraction (1987) follows a married man, Dan Gallagher, and a one-night affair coming back to haunt him when the mistress, Alex Forrest, begins to stalk him and his family. The ending of this movie was changed and highly debated upon release, which expanded its influences into a cult classic status. The changes made to the ending are reflective of the perceived sensitivity of Americans at the time, while global locations, like Japan, received the original copy. Before describing why the endings are different, we need to understand how they are different. 
The changed ending sees Dan’s wife, Beth, shooting and killing Alex. Beth forgives Dan, Alex is gone from their lives, and the last image is of a picture of their family in the foreground. This ending promotes traditional family values that made the audience think about love, rejection, responsibility, and overall mortality in a patriarchal way. This ending leaves the women pitted against each other (even though one is suffering from a mental illness), and the man cleansed of his sins by society and within his family unit.
The original Fatal Attraction ending sees Alex Forrest killing herself with a knife that has Dan Gallagher's fingerprints on it, and Dan is arrested for her murder. Beth, Dan’s wife, finds a cassette tape that Alex sent Dan in which she threatens to kill herself; Beth then takes this to the police, who clear Dan of the murder. The last scene shows, in flashback, Alex taking her own life by slashing her throat while listening to Madame Butterfly, an opera from the turn of the 20th century. Madame Butterfly tells the tale of a young Japanese lady, Butterfly, living with an American soldier called Pinkerton in Nagasaki, Japan. The ending of this tale parallels Fatal Attraction with Butterfly taking her own life with a knife just as Pinkerton rushes in, but he’s too late to save her. This ending provided a tragic but poetic justice of sorts in both stories. It speaks to a universal experience of women who only recessive a cathartic sense of justice in death. Dan still had to face the consequences of his actions. Dan’s sins are made public to his community. Despite Fatal Attraction being an American film, the inclusion of Madame Butterfly is an example of having intercultural elements elevating a film, so it is a real shame the original ending was initially rejected by American audiences. 
It should also be noted that Fatal Attraction was met with protest from Korean film distributors by "releasing snakes, setting fire in the theaters, and tearing off the screens."[1] The film’s release in Korea and Japan in 1988 is what sparked the conversations, because this is the point where a global audience realized there were multiple endings. Before this point, it wasn’t common knowledge. The Korean audience did not have access to the original, but the Japanese audience did. Within the changed ending, there are a few foreshadows to the original ending, the most notable being the inclusion and references to Madame Butterfly
The L.A Times Archive on OCT. 30, 1987 reports, “the Wall St. Journal reports that the suicide ending was enthusiastically received by Japanese film distributors at a spring screening, unlike American test audiences, whose poor reaction prompted the substitute ending. Now the Japanese want the original tacked back on when the film arrives there in February. Paramount Chairman Frank Mancuso has asked that distributors show the two versions to Japanese test audiences before making a decision.”[2]
This goes to show the American producers really pushed to remove the original ending from screens around the world. The cultural differences between America and Japan in the 1980s were reflective of political and economic differences. In Japan during the 1980s, the economy was in a boom where buyers found themselves paying the highest prices for goods and commodities.[3] When communities face economic growth, there will also see expansions in the arts.
In the film industry particularly, the import and export of films grows. As new movies are imported, it leaves people more open to cultures unlike their own. Because it is an universal or human experience that when basic necessities are met, people have the time and energy to engage with more community based arts and social activities. 
On the opposite side of the world, America in 1987 was experiencing worry about the traditional values and stability of their future. A UPI article written by Elaine Povich on Jan 5th 1987 recounts, “President Reagan sent Congress the nation's first $1 trillion budget today, calling for a 'leaner, better focused' government that would spend more on the Pentagon and AIDS research, but less on farmers, some veterans and students.”[4] This might explain why the American testing audience hated the original film.
The American audience wanted the familiar narrative of an American family man, which centers the man as a protector despite being the cause of the family’s endangerment. The original ending clearly displays a woman experiencing mental illness in a tragic light and does not absolve Dan of his sins. There has been a lot of growth in the US to focus on destigmatizing mental health so, with the shift in American values, I wonder what the Fatal Attraction tv series has done. 
I find myself enjoying the film’s original ending much better; however, I do feel that there are issues with it. Mental health can oftentimes excuse, and even absolve, deviant behavior in films. The standard structure of films can often be a clear black and white, good or bad solution, leading to nuance and complex story arcs to be erased. Alex’s mental health did lead her to stalk and harm the Gallagher family, which can’t be undone in her death. I don’t find Alex’s suicide or murder satisfying in either version. Both versions of the movie do not bring more nuances to the character suffering from mental health. Alex is either 100% a victim or 100% an abuser, which then distracts from Dan’s role in the situation. 
We are currently in a politically polarizing time where issues of mental health are attempting more nuance, so hopefully the television series’ Alex will be provided help in a less traumatic way. This leaves me hopeful for the ending of the television show, as there is great potential to combine two camps of fans that have a strong opinion of the original vs edited versions. 
Sydney Lloyd is Film Editor for Wandering Educators.
She is seeking a Film and Communications Degree from Coe College, and she is set to graduate in May of 2024. Her professional goals are to become a photographer, filmmaker, and screenwriter. Sydney’s passion within film also involves researching the impact fans and general audiences have on the production of film and television. Outside of school and work, Sydney enjoys watching movies, and arts and crafts, such as crocheting.
Word photo film title: Wikimedia Commons/Mavelus, adapted by Sydney Lloyd