Fatal Attraction: Is the Movie and the TV Show Based on Real Life?

‘Fatal Attraction’ is a 1987 psychological thriller movie that follows a married man who has a weekend affair with a woman. However, when the woman becomes obsessed with the man, his life turns upside down. Directed by Adrian Lyne, it stars Michael Douglas, Glenn Close, and Anne Archer in the lead roles. The movie sparked a trend of steamy relationship thrillers and has also been adapted into a stage play and a television show streaming on Paramount+. Owing to the thrilling narrative and compelling performances, viewers must be curious to learn the inspiration behind the story that has stood the test of time, especially if it is inspired by a true story.

The Inspiration Behind Fatal Attraction

No, ‘Fatal Attraction’ is not based on a true story. The film tells a fictional story with the screenplay penned by James Dearden. The director-screenwriter is known for his work on projects such as ‘Pascali’s Island,’ ‘A Kiss Before Dying,’ and ‘Christmas Survival.’ However, another one of Dearden’s projects inspired the story of ‘Fatal Attraction.’ The film expands upon the premise and themes of the 1980 short film ‘Diversion’ written and directed by Dearden. It explores the complications faced by a man who cheats on his wife with a seemingly harmless woman who demands more from him.

In an interview, Dearden revealed that the movie is not based on any actual events. “I’m not going to say (the story) was autobiographical, but everyone has been in situations where they’ve been harassed,” the writer is quoted in author Stephen Galloway’s book ‘Leading Lady,’ which is the biography of producer Sherry Lansing. “I had an experience where somebody kept calling me, and I got very uncomfortable. And I had a girlfriend who cut her wrists, very theatrically, and not to kill herself. Then a good friend of mine was pursued by this beautiful but crazy woman, and it was destroying his marriage,” Dearden added.

From Dearden’s words, it is safe to say that the screenwriter sought inspiration from several real-life instances of romance and adultery gone wrong. Moreover, the writer focuses on some relationships’ obsessive and toxic nature that drastically affects the people involved, forming the story’s basic premise. After successfully creating the short film, Dearden pitched the story to Hollywood producers who demanded a feature film version of the screenplay.

The producers approved Dearden’s feature film screenplay, albeit after several changes. Writer Nicholas Meyer reportedly performed a rewrite of Dearden’s script but remains uncredited in the film’s final cut. Furthermore, the studio executives asked Dearden to make the protagonist, Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas), more innocent and the character of Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) more cunning and evil. The film’s original ending was also rewritten to make it more palatable for the audience.

Alexandra Cunningham and Kevin J. Hynes (‘Dirty John‘) developed the 2023 television adaptation based on the original film. The series features the same main characters as the 1987 movie but makes several changes to expand upon the narrative. However, the series is not a direct remake of the film but an expanded retelling of the original story in a contemporary setting. As a result, the television series provides new backstories to the iconic characters, especially that of Alex, and explores the reasons behind her obsessive behavior.

“I liked her desire to tell a story that uses the benefit of TV and the amount of time that you have to really get into the characters and to use that space to go deeper into the psychology of Alex Forrest and who she is and why she is the way she is and what in particular it is about Dan that is the perfect toxic element in her life,” actor Joshua Jackson (‘Dr. Death‘) who plays Dan Gallagher said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. Thus, it is safe to deduce that the television series attempts to undo the misogynistic undertones of the original film by painting Alex in a more sympathetic light.

Ultimately, ‘Fatal Attraction’ is not based on a true story. Instead, it explores facets of human nature, such as attraction, obsession, and eroticism, while dealing with themes such as infidelity and sexual politics. Despite the questionable choices of its characters, the television adaptation attempts to humanize them while greatly adding to their natures and personalities. However, both film and television are rooted in reality due to the grounded nature of their premise.

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