By Isabel Ringrose
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Stuck for cash? Just reboot a sexist film

Why is it that instead of telling new stories filmmakers are deciding to reboot and rebrand films that feature tired sexist tropes?
Issue 2854
sexism Fatal Attraction

Lizzy Caplan stars in the reboot of Fatal Attraction sexism

Should sexist films be remade? And if so, how much of the original material should be kept in? Paramount’s recent remake of the 1987 film Fatal Attraction would wrongly say yes—and most of it.

Fatal Attraction was the highest-grossing film at the time—a psychosexual thriller about an extra-marital affair. The new ten-part series follows the same premise and leans heavily on the old plot.

In fact some of the script is word for word from the original film. The 1987 film manages to stigmatise women as well as say the wrong things about mental distress. The new series is supposed to be exploring the woman lead, Alex Forrest’s, point of view.

Some of the stigma may have been reimagined, but can, and should, a film so cemented in sexist tropes and mental health be made better? If these wrongs can be undone, perhaps nodding to the original references isn’t the best way to do it. Fatal Attraction confirmed the roles enforced on us throughout society that men are the logical, clear thinkers, and women think with their emotions.  

Actress Glenn Close, the film’s original Alex, has since condemned the film for its vilification and tone-deaf exploration of mental health.  The film is responsible for the “bunny boiler” trope, which is defined as “a woman who acts vengefully after having been spurned by her lover”.

Fatal Attraction’s dismissive portrayal of women concludes that, especially in abusive situations, women are simply irrational. 

It reinforces the idea that women are emotional, unstable and dependent on a man, who is usually just trying to live his best life.

The painting of women as obsessive and vengeful, which is the film’s primary offering, was part of a slew of media, including music, that came out around that same time.  This trope has stuck and has since been applied to teenagers who supposedly know how to wield sexual power over adult men.

And the “out of control ex” narrative has been taken wider than the screen to be used in real life to justify abuse and to gaslight women.

The attempted rebranding of sexist films seems to be a pattern. Paramount has also helped with remaking the 1988 film Dead Ringers into a six-part series.  The David Cronenberg film follows two identical twin gynaecologist brothers who seduce then abuse their patients, physically and mentally.

The remake reverses the roles—the twins are now women. The “sex-swapped reimagining” is supposed to be empowering because it changes the original and makes it something better. We’re not winning equality by taking what the bad brothers did and making it something good for the sisters. It would be better for films to take on new concepts to show the reality for women rather than trying to rewrite motion picture wrongs.

But the new Fatal Attraction seems to be attempting to repackage sexism to sell. Alex is successful but not quite the high powered professional that Close played.  The lead up to the portrayal of her mental distress is somewhat softer, but maybe that’s because there are ten episodes to get through.

Yet Dan Gallagher is still the “It” guy with his almost‑perfect life and a perfect wife. He’s still portrayed as the victim. That’s the problem with re-making a fundamentally flawed film—it has taken on some of its worst traits in an attempt to make them good.

It would be more useful to tell better stories of women, sex, mental health and relationships from a fresh perspective. Instead, we have to re-suffer a four-decade-old trope that reflects and entrenches ideas that damage how women are seen both on screen and in real life. 

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