Clearing the Air

The 'Fatal Attraction' Ending: Fatally Flawed or Ambigiously Brilliant?

A small debate worth the time...

So, after my Sunday posting of What I Watched a conversation got started on Twitter with Drew McWeeny from HitFix.com. The discussion was in regards to the ending of Fatal Attraction based on another back-and-forth I was having with Garth Franklin who runs DarkHorizons.com about my comments on Dead Calm in which I detested the tacked on ending. Garth agreed - although thought I over-reacted - saying, "Surprising take on Dead Calm, I adore that film and see your point but think you WAY over-reacted to it. It's a silly addition (a la Fatal Attraction)." I agreed (not that I over-reacted), it does resemble the change at the end of Fatal Attraction (both of which came as a result of test audience screenings), but said I enjoyed the latter's ending much more and don't think it ruined Fatal Attraction at all, which was my primary beef with Dead Calm as it completely took the power out of the female protagonist's hands and turned it into yet another man-saves-woman feature, which the film was building too, but ended with Kidman's character saving the day, that is until the end-end of course.

This was when Drew came into the conversation saying, "I detest the ending of Fatal Attraction. It's woman-hating garbage, mean and venal and morally repugnant." His opinion is that the ending of Fatal Attraction delivers the following moral to the story: "Hey, remember that crazy bitch you fucked? Well, I killed her, so now we can be a happy family again. THE END!"

Instead, Drew prefers the original ending, which was ultimately removed from the film in favor of the more intense version you have come to know. He added, "[The] original ending was elegant, and the ENTIRE FILM, even the score, thematically underlines what should have happened."

I thought it was interesting how passionate Drew was about this particular subject, especially since I whole-heartedly disagree with his view. If anything I would think Drew would despise both endings.

First for the theatrical ending. Unfortunately I couldn't find the full ending with everything that follows the death of Glenn Close's character, namely the instance where Dan (Michael Douglas) and Beth (Anne Archer) hug, walk together out of the shot and the camera pans down to a family portrait. I am assuming it is this part of the ending that has Drew so enraged, and I can sort of see where he is coming from, but instead of looking at this as something that says they are now "a happy family again," I look at it as a picture of a time of happiness this family will never return to. Their family is ruined and Fatal Attraction followed the demise of a once happy family into a tragic and broken one. Sure, they are hugging now, a crazy woman just came into their house and tried to kill them only to end up being shot to death, but my tendency was to look beyond what was shown on screen as the portrait fades to black and the credits roll and I think to myself, Yup, that once happy family is no more.

Now, as for the original ending, which I was able to find the complete video for online, I don't see how Drew can be so in favor of this one over the other, especially considering one specific line of dialogue. After Dan was taken away by the authorities, Beth is upstairs calling the lawyer and stumbles upon the audio tape Alex recorded in a last ditch effort to gain Dan's affection. It's the audio tape that clears his name and Beth whispers, "Oh, thank God." She verbalizes her pleasure in knowing she will be able to get her husband off for a murder he didn't commit, but doesn't change the fact he cheated on her with this woman. I would go as far as to say this actually insinuates a "happy family" ending more than the current ending. After all, it is also confirmation Dan was pushing Alex away and wasn't interested in continuing the affair (something that definitely helps patch things up), but shouldn't tears of happiness and Anne shouting, "Ellen, come on, we're gonna go get daddy," do more to forward Drew's hatred than the actual theatrical ending? If you look at it the same as Drew did the theatrical ending, isn't this one saying, "Hey, remember that crazy bitch you fucked? Well, she killed herself, so now we can be a happy family again. THE END!" When you look at the film from that slant I don't think either ending is preferable. Fortunately for me, I don't take that angle. What do you think?

I have posted the two endings directly below followed by a brief interview segment with Michael Douglas when the AFI honored Douglas with the 37th AFI Life Achievement Award back in June.

Theatrical Original

Michael Douglas Talks About the Original Ending
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  • Adriano

    I don't like either endings, but I prefer the theatrical one - at least it's more economic. But I really hate that "back from the dead" effect - how Glenn Close's character could hold her breath for so long, and how Anne Archer's character is just *right there* when she has to. But as for the original one, wow, they even show the woman doing that to herself! How stupid is that?

    I'm glad Adrian Lyne did a much better job in "Unfaithful" - when the studio also wanted to change the ending. And come on, the last scene of "Unfaithful" is amazing, heartbreaking, and doesn't necessarily answer the final question.

  • GregM

    In response to the Douglas interview clip, the appeal of movies is that you view someone else's vision of a story (which also explains the concept that the director is king even though it takes many people to develop that vision). So, if I'm going to see someone else's vision I'd like it to be uncompromised, and opposed to what my peers think they would rather see.

    As far as Fatal Attraction, I'm not a fan of the movie in general but I agree with Brad's take on both endings. That said, I'm with Garth on Dead Calm's ending, that just seemed like one more scare as opposed to a devaluation of the heroine.

  • GregM

    @Adriano: You're dead on with Unfaithful.

  • Anonymous’ Friend

    I like the original ending. More poetic and gives a better and an adult feel to the movie. The crazy shooting ending is just what Hollywood does to movies: Dumbs it down so that the the idiot watching can enjoy it. The shooting ending is cheesier and more unrealistic, but hey if the customer is always right huh, Michael Douglas?

  • Anonymous’ Friend

    @Adriano: Come on! The reasons why studios leave open endings like that is because its a cop out due to the fact that they're afraid of the audience's reaction either way in the ending, and they're afraid to be wrong in hindsight. When a story is clearly defined it has a beginning, middle, and end. When there's no end, it always leaves room for a sequel...which usually suck.

  • Adriano

    @Anonymous' Friend: but on "Unfaithful", the studio didn't want an open ending. Adrian Lyne and Richard Gere had to go against the studio to leave the open ending.
    And I don't see how "Unfaithful" could have a sequel...

  • Anonymous’ Friend

    @Adriano: Well then the filmmakers copped out because they weren't brave enough to take a stand; not brave enough to choose their ending afraid the critics or fans or whoever might turn on them. Either way, they chickened out.

    Believe me you, studios have made sequels over lesser material than that. Remember the Mask? Or Speed? Anything is sequel-able when Hollywood's greedy execs get their minds on it.