Of all places, I first heard about this film in late 1980s issues of The Amazing Spider-Man (the Michelinie/McFarlane run.) In light of their other roles, it’s odd to see Hank Pym and Cruella de Vil having sex.
The film raised considerable press and discussion around release, partly because of the men who could relate to Dan’s position. I couldn’t imagine myself doing what Dan does early on in this film. A caring, pretty wife and an androgynous daughter (it took me a long time to stop misgendering her) seems the far more desirable option. But then I’ve not been married for 9 years, so what do I know?
Defining Alex and Dan’s relationship becomes difficult. Dan precipitates it by leading Alex on, out of the rain. But Alex becomes almost a ‘femme fatale’, an object of desire that she embraces, yet despises being treated as a “whore”. They find romantic instincts, drink fine wine and have a love of Madame Butterfly, in a scene which I swear to inspired the screenwriters of the Doctor Who TV movie 9 years later, used as an object of romantic bonding.
Who is the victim of the film? Dan seems to be a hardworking, caring guy who doesn’t want infidelity, but is pressured into it by Alex. She becomes a ‘psycho ex’, stalking and ruining Dan’s life. Alex could easily fill the role of the female horror villain. Think of Jason’s mom in Friday the 13th (1980) – she’s an everyday mother driven to do the unthinkable; she stabs people because of loss, and because of mental illness. But Dan subjects her to a fair amount of physical abuse, leading questions to whether the abuse is justified. Ultimately, in the end, she becomes a victim of both the empowered Dan and the empowered Beth, in a final scene of violent confrontation that reminds me in part of the conclusion to Taxi Driver (1976) – a bloody, and perhaps somewhat justified, end to a reign of terror.
But Alex is still a strong character – she’s an independent, career woman, where all she wants is a family like Dan’s. She makes her own maternal decisions on carrying forward the pregnancy. She could easily be a compelling representation of a person suffering from depression. Unfortunately, the film reaches a point of melodrama past where it rings completely false to real life.
I appreciate the film’s circularity. We hear an anecdote from Dan about how he pushed away his own mother because he doesn’t practice family law, but over the course of the film, he reaches a point where family law can’t save him now. It’s apt that Dan is cast as a lawyer, tempted towards sin and eventually into crime.
In the original ending, the film is more cyclical – it draws a firmer conclusion: Beth listens to the cassette tape that Alex recorded; Dan finds consequences for his actions, as the police he was speaking to before reappear; and it draws a beautiful conclusion, mirroring Madame Butterfly with Alex’s suicide – something almost inevitable following the scene where she slashed her wrists, and presented a false version of herself as better, but clearly wasn’t.
I like both endings, but the original fits the film a little better. So thanks, test screenings.
On a final note, there is something I love about seeing New York in the 1980s. Though the film tells a relatively timeless story, part of the reason I love older films is because it can become a sort of time capsule to decades beforehand: to escape into a world that isn’t the everyday, whilst still pulling from everyday experiences I can relate to.