Vital Signs

The Vanishing Adult

In Fatal Attraction (1987), a woman jilted by her one-night stand strikes back: she leaves his six-year-old daughter's rabbit boiling on the stove, pours sulfuric acid on his car, harasses him with vitriolic and abusive cassettes, stages an aggressive suicide, makes anonymous phone calls to his wife, kidnaps his daughter, and, half-crazed, stalks his wife with a butcher knife. She is finally shot by the wife.

What are we to make of this? Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned? Perhaps. But more importantly, this movie represents—at least metaphorically—the state of relations between men and women in the films of the 80's. Looking over the movies of the past 50 years, it becomes strikingly clear that although celluloid men and women can still feel an erotic attraction for one another, they have become increasingly confrontational, distrustful, hostile, destructive, dangerous, even deadly.

In the 30's, 40's, or even the 50's, if you went to the movies, chances are you saw men and women who got along reasonably well. If they had problems, they were usually overcome. Glancing through the notebook I keep of every movie I see, I find such examples as The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), The Gay Divorcee (1934), Cyrano de Bergerac (1950), and Magnificent Obsession (1954).

Not every one of the earlier movies had harmonious relations. Still, marital...

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