Why ‘Fatal Attraction’ is Still Thrilling

wesley morris

It used to be that if you wanted to watch sex in the movies, you had to put on clothes. You would have to find a place that was showing so-called adult movies. And you had to sit in the dark with a bunch of strangers. This was the 1970s when “Deep Throat” and “The Devil in Miss Jones” — that’s “The Devil in Miss Jones” — and “Behind the Green Door” were hits.

But then in the 1980s, the VCR comes along. And the adult film industry shifted production to home video, and Hollywood freaked out. And I have a theory. They had to think of something that would keep people coming to theaters, coming to theaters. So they figured, let’s just take the sex and build a whole plot around it. And we’ll basically turn it into a genre. And that genre winds up being called the erotic thriller. And in it, men and women are having sex, and the sex was the thing that sets the plot in motion.

And the genre lasted from about 1981 to about — I don’t know — the late ‘90s, it was pretty much dead. Some of these movies include “Body Double” from 1984, the Brian De Palma movie, “9 and 1/2 Weeks” from 1986 with Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke. But the genre reaches its apex in 1987 with a movie that completely just electrifies the nation.

archived recording

A look that led to an evening.

wesley morris

It’s called “Fatal Attraction.”

archived recording

A mistake he’d regret all his life.

wesley morris

And it stars Glenn Close and Michael Douglas as two people having a hot sexy affair for the weekend while his wife is out of town. And Glenn Close doesn’t like it when he decides he’s going to go back to his family.

archived recording (alex forrest)

I’ve got to see you.

archived recording (dan gallagher)

This is going to stop.

archived recording (alex forrest)

No, it’s not going to stop. It’s going to go on and on.

archived recording (dan gallagher)

She keeps calling the apartment.

wesley morris

It was a huge box office hit. Everybody was talking about this movie. It made Glenn Close a star. It cemented Michael Douglas as the kind of leading man that women just couldn’t help but try to persecute with their sex! It also was one of those ‘80s movies that completely misrepresents what it’s like for a woman to have a career. And it papers over the mental illness that’s behind Glenn Close’s behavior in the first place.

archived recording

I guess you thought you’d get away with it. Well, you can’t.

wesley morris

So, today, on the show, we’re going to talk about “Fatal Attraction.” There’s a lot wrong with this movie. And yet, and yet, it’s such a good movie.

[music]

I’m Wesley Morris. I’m a culture writer at “The New York Times.” And this is “Still Processing.”

Parul Sehgal, welcome to the show.

parul sehgal

Hey, Wesley.

wesley morris

You’re a staff writer at The New Yorker. And when you worked here at The New York Times, you and I sat next to each other for a long time.

parul sehgal

First of all, I miss you, Wesley.

wesley morris

I miss you, too. We’ve had many conversations, and now I’m here to ask you about “Fatal Attraction.” You spent some time with this movie. How did the time you spent with this movie make you feel?

parul sehgal

Yeah, no, I mean, that’s nicely put. So I have spent some time with this movie, and this is one of the few movies my family owned. We owned “The Ten Commandments,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Fatal Attraction,” three or four bootleg Bollywood movies and “The Pink Panther.” We watched it constantly.

And every time I see this movie, I identify with a different character. I have a different sense of what this movie is about. I have a different sense of why this movie was thought to define the zeitgeist in the way it did, all of which is to say I don’t know what’s going to come out of my mouth today, Wesley. I don’t know —

wesley morris

Oh, my God. Then —

parul sehgal

— at this time.

wesley morris

— you have come to the right conversation, my friend. This movie came out when I was 11 years old. I went to a boarding school in north Philadelphia. And for many of my afternoons on my “town pass” — is what we called them — I would go see “Fatal Attraction.” And I was so electrified by it.

I just want to talk to you about everything in this movie. So let’s just start with the opening sequence, which is this panoramic shot of the Upper West Side. And you land in the apartment of this couple, the Gallaghers — Dan Gallagher and Beth Gallagher and their daughter, Ellen.

archived recording (ellen gallagher)

Daddy, telephone.

wesley morris

They’re played by Michael Douglas and Anne Archer, and the actress playing the daughter, her name is also Ellen. And what you’re watching is this couple sort of basically get ready to go out for the evening.

archived recording (dan gallagher)

She wants to know what you’re wearing.

parul sehgal

What’s so striking is that they’re all wearing the same thing. They’re all wearing white shirts, billowing white shirts, and underwear. And he’s sitting on the couch, and he’s working. He’s a lawyer.

wesley morris

Right.

parul sehgal

It’s clean. It’s innocent. It’s denuded of sex. And so that’s our introduction to the very, very hapless Dan Gallagher.

archived recording (dan gallagher)

Oh, honey, honey, where’s my blue suit?

archived recording (beth gallagher)

It’s on the back of the door. Oh, shit.

parul sehgal

They’re on their way to going out for the evening. And they’re going to a book party. And they meet a woman.

wesley morris

Her name is Alex Forrest, and she’s played by Glenn Close.

parul sehgal

And she has this Medusa hair and this Medusa gaze.

wesley morris

Medusa, witchy, wolfish. There’s definitely a danger to this woman. So I think that makes it — it also makes her a little more attractive to Dan.

archived recording (dan gallagher)

Can I get a champagne, please?

parul sehgal

And then they meet up at the bar accidentally. He goes to get a drink, and she’s right at his elbow. And they’re at the bar. He turns to look at her. She looks at him, and she laughs.

archived recording (dan gallagher)

My name is Dan Gallagher.

archived recording (alex forrest)

Alex Forrest.

parul sehgal

He’s receptive, he’s laughing. And she’s in control, right? And then she sees his wife. And, oh, is that your wife, after this tiny little moment of flirtation. And we can see automatically how much power she has in that moment. And that’s the first meeting.

wesley morris

Right, and so the next scene is the wife going out of town.

archived recording (dan gallagher)

OK, see you tomorrow night.

wesley morris

But he has to stay in Manhattan to go to this meeting on a Saturday.

archived recording 2

Dan, this is Alex Forrester, our new associate editor.

archived recording (dan gallagher)

I know, we met before. Hi.

archived recording (alex forrest)

Yeah, hello.

parul sehgal

They smile. They recognize each other. They’re feeling each other out. And then, of course, they go out into the rain, and then there’s this fabulously unsubtle moment. He’s standing out in the rain, and he can’t open his umbrella. And of course, she sails over to him and sort of rescues him gallantly.

archived recording (alex forrest)

Is it made in Taiwan?

archived recording (dan gallagher)

Yeah, [INAUDIBLE].

wesley morris

So they go to the restaurant. They’re having — it’s dinner.

parul sehgal

So they’re at this restaurant. And we can see, again, just, she’s in control. She’s the one who sort of feeling him out a little bit, sort of toying with him in a very sort of feline kind of way, you know?

archived recording (alex forrest)

And you’re here with a strange girl being a naughty boy.

archived recording (dan gallagher)

I don’t think having dinner with anybody is a crime.

archived recording (alex forrest)

Not yet.

parul sehgal

I remember at the time and even now, there are a lot of pieces sort of trying to analyze Dan’s blandness, his lack of appeal. Like, what’s going on here? And maybe this is a really sad commentary on the state of heterosexuality, but what isn’t, frankly? But there is a moment where you can see that he’s somebody who can talk to women. He can talk to women. He will joke. He’ll be quiet. He’ll listen. He can make himself passive and sort of subservient. Especially in the beginning, we can see this is how he gets her trust a little bit, you know?

archived recording (dan gallagher)

I definitely think it’s going to be up to you.

forrest)^

We were attracted to each other at the party. That was obvious.

wesley morris

And then there’s this moment that when I was 11 years old struck me as intensely erotic. He mouths something to her.

archived recording (dan gallagher)

Let’s get the check.

wesley morris

Let’s get the check. You can barely hear him say it. It’s like his mouth is dry because he’s terrified, right? This is another thing. He’s scared of what’s about to happen next, which is what they call a smash cut, a hard cut. And they are in the apartment, in her apartment, doing it! I mean, they’re going at it, and it’s a sex that you probably would not have seen people have before in a straight Hollywood movie that was produced by Paramount.

It’s wild. It’s violent.

parul sehgal

It’s a sex scene you wouldn’t have seen then. And I don’t know. For me, it’s a sex scene you wouldn’t see now. It’s desperate. It’s not romantic. The camera is very, very close. You can almost smell them, it feels to me. Then she turns on the water at one point behind herself. She’s on the sink and sort of wets her neck and her chest. And then he’s sort of carrying her towards the bed and penguin waddling in this funny way and almost falling over. So it’s funny.

wesley morris

Yeah, because his pants are around his ankles. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

parul sehgal

It’s like they don’t know they’re being watched. And I think that there’s something there that feels very honest to me about that scene.

wesley morris

This is something happening intimately between two people, but it is also something that is advancing the plot, right? Because one of the things about this genre is, if you take the sex out of the plot, you don’t have a plot. So all the sex they have in this movie needs to be had in order for you to feel the stakes of what winds up happening later.

parul sehgal

And we also see them having sex in the elevator of her building, right?

wesley morris

Oh, yeah.

archived recording (alex forrest)

Have you ever done it in an elevator?

archived recording (dan gallagher)

Not recently, no.

parul sehgal

You get the feeling that he’s never had an affair, really. That’s my feeling when I watch. I was like, you can see how overwhelmed he is, how different everything is that’s happening. So it’s as far from the cozy Upper West Side apartment as can be.

archived recording (alex forrest)

What are you doing?

archived recording (dan gallagher)

I got to go.

wesley morris

So at the end of the weekend, he tries to leave.

parul sehgal

He tries to leave, yeah.

wesley morris

And she’s like, but I don’t want you to go. Like, I don’t like this. And then he sort of gives a rationale. And she says, I’d have more respect for you if you told me to fuck off. And he sits there, and he thinks about it. And again, kind of childish.

archived recording (dan gallagher)

All right. Then fuck off.

wesley morris

She kicks him out of the bed.

archived recording (alex forrest)

And you get out!

wesley morris

And he’s clearly doing the math on the situation he’s gotten himself into. And while he’s in the other room basically getting the rest of his things together, she comes and says, why don’t you come and say goodbye like a nice person? And he goes over and he gives her a kiss, and they’re kissing. And he realizes — he says, God, it’s like your hands are wet.

archived recording (dan gallagher)

Your hands are all wet.

wesley morris

And he looks down at her hands.

And this is the moment the movie changes, right? We’re no longer in some steamy sex romp anymore. This isn’t like two people having a weekend affair. This woman has slit her wrists, and her hands are covered in blood.

parul sehgal

Yeah, yeah. And in that little moment, though, right, the hands are wet. It calls back to the sex on the sink. You can’t help but notice she’s wearing the same thing that the daughter was wearing in the first scene, just that big white shirt, you know? So she looks so small, so innocent. And so then he immediately goes into caretaking mode, right? We see him rushing around, bandaging her, and spends the night. And then he returns home, sort of, you can tell, feeling like I’ve bandaged it all up. It’s all clean now. I’ve cleaned everything. I’ve left no traces, you know? And you can sense also a little bit of like, I handled that well. But it’s not so simple.

wesley morris

Yes, it’s not so simple because he’s left his mark on this person. And basically, the wife comes back.

archived recording (dan gallagher)

Oh, my God, I missed you.

wesley morris

And what you realize you’ve got here is a story of domestic disturbance, essentially.

archived recording (beth gallagher)

I should go away more often.

wesley morris

And it isn’t just that the domesticity between these two people has been disturbed, but the actual sort of the sanctity of the marriage, of the home, of the family is in question.

archived recording (beth gallagher)

Hello?

archived recording (dan gallagher)

Hi, honey. How are you doing? The plumber come yet?

wesley morris

And then —

archived recording (alex forrest)

It’s Alex Forrest again.

wesley morris

— Alex proceeds to stalk him.

archived recording (dan gallagher)

If she calls again, tell her I’m not here.

wesley morris

She calls his office. She calls his home.

archived recording (beth gallagher)

Hello?

wesley morris

He doesn’t want his wife, Beth, who’s played by Anne Archer, to talk to Alex, so he changes the home number.

archived recording (alex forrest)

Well, what am I supposed to do? You won’t answer my calls. You changed your number. I mean, I’m not going to be ignored, Dan!

wesley morris

And when Alex can’t get him on the phone —

archived recording (alex forrest)

Hi.

wesley morris

— she shows up —

archived recording (dan gallagher)

Hello.

wesley morris

— at his office.

archived recording (alex forrest)

This isn’t a bad time, is it? I was in the area. I figured that —

wesley morris

No, no, you — you’re welcome to my office.

parul sehgal

And so he doesn’t know what to do. And then she shows up in his house.

archived recording (alex forrest)

Alex Forrest.

archived recording (beth gallagher)

Alex Forrest. This is my husband, Dan.

wesley morris

Alex has come over quite ingeniously to see about this home for sale. They’re selling their apartment to move to Westchester. And Beth is just completely oblivious. Oh, this is Alex.

parul sehgal

And Beth is very sympathetic. She’s like, oh, Alex, take our new number in case you want to reach us. This is where we’re moving. She gives the name of the town.

wesley morris

Gives her everything.

parul sehgal

And all he can do is stand and watch. He cannot say anything.

archived recording (alex forrest)

I’ll keep in touch.

archived recording (beth gallagher)

Great.

wesley morris

And so sure enough, they move. But weird things keep happening. And they go one weekend to go see the in-laws, her parents, Beth’s parents. They come home, and the camera tracks across the living room to the front door. And Beth Gallagher comes in, and she just turns on a light, puts her purse down and looks into the kitchen. And you just hear something — you hear a noise.

There’s a pot boiling on the stove. And there’s a couple of cuts to the daughter running toward the cage where she keeps her pet rabbit. And the daughter reaches the cage at the same moment that Beth reaches the pot, pulls off the lid, and sees the rabbit.

archived recording (ellen gallagher)

Daddy!

archived recording (dan gallagher)

What? [SCREAMING]

archived recording

[INTERPOSING SCREAMS]

parul sehgal

From that scene came the phrase, “bunny boiler,” you know, for the unhinged woman — the potential unhinged woman in all women, or some women. At one point, Michael Douglas says to the Glenn Close character, you’re sick. But that’s about the most we get about what’s going on with her. In general, it’s treated as a morality issue, that there’s something bad and evil about this woman. And it’s one of the sort of lasting legacies of the movie, right?

Because the movie doesn’t really comment on what’s going on, what caused this, what’s behind this, what’s behind her, you know? Glenn Close did her own research and famously talked to psychologists and had her own narrative of what’s behind this woman. And her theory was like, oh, this was a woman who was molested by her father. And that’s why she’s very, very troubled.

wesley morris

I also think that the movie is aware of the gender politics up to a point, right? Alex has a line where she goes, you think I’m just some cheap whore you can use and bang once and throw in the garbage.

parul sehgal

Right.

wesley morris

That’s not me. That’s not what will be happening here. And I think that the disposability, her refusal to be disposed of, is so important to her. But I also think it’s crucial to this idea of the tension that’s at work in this movie, which brings us to the ending, in a way, because Alex shows up for a final time at the house. And the wife is taking a bath. She wipes the steam off with the sleeve of her robe. She looks — classic movie trick.

archived recording (beth gallagher)

[SCREAMS] [SHATTERING]

wesley morris

There’s Glenn Close like some sort of ghost from the past. Alex Forrest has come into the home and is ready for her final assault.

archived recording (alex forrest)

What are you doing here?

parul sehgal

She keeps saying, why don’t you leave us alone? She speaks like a wounded wife. The wife now, she speaks to Anne Archer like she’s the interloper. And of course, again, in very Michael Douglas fashion, he’s oblivious and then hears the screams, rushes upstairs.

archived recording

[SCREAMING]

wesley morris

And the next cut is him flying into Alex Forrest. He throws her against the mirror. She splashes him. They wind up in the bathtub together. He tries to drown her. Great movie moment.

parul sehgal

And one that comes from a great noir sort of trope, too — she rises from the water.

archived recording (alex forrest)

[SCREAMING]

archived recording

GUNSHOT]

parul sehgal

There’s Anne Archer sort of holding the gun and not looking triumphant, looking incredibly —

wesley morris

No.

parul sehgal

— incredibly pained, incredibly wounded, incredibly on the verge of collapse herself. Really, it does come down to the women in that interaction.

wesley morris

The last shot of the movie is the door closes, and we have the police have come. And they’ve taken statements and presumably removed Alex Forrest from this domestic paradise. And as Dan and Beth close the door and embrace, the camera’s not tracking toward them. It’s moving toward a photograph of the three members of this family. It’s not the family itself. It’s this idea of family and this idea of domesticity and happiness. And there’s something about that artificiality that just also feels like a judgment to me, right? Like, nobody’s right here. The only thing that’s real is the sex and the violence.

parul sehgal

Right. No, and in the same way, that final lingering shot of the family in the frame, which just fills me with queasiness every single time.

wesley morris

Yeah, me too!

parul sehgal

Right? And you feel the violence required to maintain that family, the violence required to maintain —

wesley morris

Yes, yes, yes!

parul sehgal

— this nice vision of that family. And the borders of that family is something that the film, I think, is knowingly doing, you know?

wesley morris

Yeah, I look at that shot, and I’m like, well, I mean, there you have it. Welcome to America, everybody. This is what’s underneath this sort of pristine idea of white domestic bliss, right? All of the violence that has to be committed to keep it together, you’re totally right about that.

And I’m really struck by the way that it sort of uses whiteness as a standard in a way that’s not dissimilar from the way other movies function — always. But there’s something about the ownership of whiteness both as a color and an experience here, right? And like a kind of upper middle class, executive level, white collar whiteness, where there’s always peril, because nothing will ever be enough.

parul sehgal

Well, there’s always peril, but there’s also always a way that sex and sexuality is the only way to invite danger. The way that foreignness and otherness is used also in combination with sexuality is interesting and important. It’s at this particular restaurant for this Japanese book that he meets the woman. Then he goes salsa dancing with her at night. And it’s always tinged with stepping out of whiteness into another world, into the other that he’s able to have these other experiences and of a certain kind of different sexuality.

And I think much has been made of the fact that this genre really started to flourish during the AIDS epidemic, you know? And what does this mean when no sex is safe, but also a really interesting way of the sort of triumph of the family, of the wife killing the other woman, the triumph of that Westchester home.

wesley morris

Yep. Well, what’s interesting about this movie as an erotic thriller is that very question, right? We think about it as it pitting Michael Douglas against Glenn Close. But Michael Douglas actually is working for Anne Archer in this movie.

parul sehgal

Michael Douglas can’t open his umbrella, OK? He’s shown that he can’t get his own cab. He can’t say, check, please, in an audible tone. Right? So all over the place, we’re seeing him deliberately, and in a way that’s very self — it exculpates him as, I don’t even know. I just stumbled into this. I’m just this little lamb. And it’s really between my wife, this powerful mother figure, and this virago. And I’m just caught in between. How convenient. How cozy for him.

wesley morris

Yes, yes.

We’re going to take a break. And when we come back, why don’t we talk about all the different ways in the last 35 years that this movie has been interpreted, reinterpreted and misinterpreted?

[music]

Well, Parul, I mean, I just want to come back to this idea that I didn’t know how you felt about this movie before we got here today. It seems to have had an impact on you. And what is it about this movie and maybe the genre in general with respect to women that intrigues you?

parul sehgal

So, first of all, I think that at least for me, I don’t have one stable point of identification. I will watch this movie, and I will feel Michael Douglas’s worry and terror and what it’s like to have all the illicit unlock something that you then cannot control. I will watch it, and I will see the way that Glenn Close’s character is created as a way to sort of frighten anybody about having that kind of need.

You can identify with the child, too, who was used in incredibly interesting ways, almost as another camera, and sort of takes the whole scene and turns it on its head. So there’s so many different points of identification, which makes it hard for me to think in terms of this movie is saying one particular thing about women.

And the real engine to getting this film made was a producer named Sherry Lansing. She’d had her own experience of sexual obsession, she said, and of sexual loneliness and rejection. And she just found it dark and interesting and complicated and shocking to her. And she wanted to see it. And to the end, she continued defending Glenn Close’s character, saying that this is somebody who I had empathy for. This isn’t somebody necessarily who I think that the film was setting out to punish. Now it is more complicated because she is punished.

wesley morris

Yes, she sure is. She gets killed at the end. But I mean, that wasn’t the original ending. The ending we saw over and over as kids, that’s a reshoot. And nobody in the cast, not Glenn Close, not Adrian Lyne, nobody wanted to do a different ending, but it tested well so they did it.

parul sehgal

So the original ending of the film, we see Glenn Close in her apartment kill herself. And she’s framed Michael Douglas for her murder. And he’s narrowly — we get a sense that he will be saved because Anne Archer has found these tapes in which Glenn Close had recorded for Michael Douglas telling him she was going to do all these terrible things to herself, kill herself, et cetera.

The ending was changed after it was tested. Producers said that audiences — and I’m going to quote one of the producers. He said that the audiences wanted, quote, “The [EXPLETIVE] to be killed with extreme prejudice.” So it’s very hard to have one sense of what’s being said and what’s exactly is happening. But tell me what you’re thinking, Wesley, when it comes to women.

wesley morris

Well, I mean, there’s a few things, right? This is the first decade where women are going to work in every movie. And Anne Archer is an old model of the female character. She’s a placeholder for some other idea of maternity, of womanhood. And so throughout the decade of the ‘80s, you have women in the workplace, doing executive jobs. And their work, of course, becomes the centerpiece of the movie, right? Like whether or not they can handle the job and handle being the old style woman, how do we balance these two things.

parul sehgal

Right, but then also, what it does to sexual dynamics, it’s almost a question of how can women sexually function if they’re employed?

wesley morris

Right, yes.

parul sehgal

So Wesley, we’re seeing all the different kinds of things that this genre, which some people can laugh at. They can say it’s trashy. It’s this, that. We can see all the things that this film like this can do. Why did these films go away?

wesley morris

Oh, man. I think there’s a number of things that could possibly explain the death of this genre. One of them is that the genre started to eat its own tail. I think 1998, this movie called “Wild Things” comes out, and the four people participating in this erotic thriller know they’re in an erotic thriller, I would say. But I think there’s something even more profound and relevant to what you and I are talking about today that can explain what happened to the genre. And I think that’s the Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky scandal. That also happened in 1998.

And I think the idea that the sex we were watching in movies was also happening in the White House is kind of unpalatable for a lot of people. You no longer wanted to go watch Michael Douglas have sex with anybody. Because the way we think about power, and the way we sort of conflate power with executive function in some way — the idea that this person that we’ve imbued with this idea of ultimate executive power had abused his power to have sex at work — the way we’ve been watching people do in movies for 10 years, was too much.

And I think there is something about the reckoning that we were forced to do about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky and the preservation of the family, because the same configuration of the Clintons is true for the Gallaghers, right? It’s two married people and a daughter. And the conversation was all about, what message is this going to send to our children? What about Chelsea? What about Hillary? Hillary is just — how innocent is Hillary?

parul sehgal

Right. I’m trying to think of the next big wave of where I next saw sexuality going in a pop culture way after the erotic thriller. And it was for me — and correct me if I’m wrong. This is just what I remember. It really became the sort of babyish faux innocence of the nymphet pop star, who was sexual, but didn’t know it. Or there was a pretense of not really knowing what you’re doing or what your effect is on other people.

wesley morris

Oops, I did it again.

parul sehgal

Exactly, exactly. Oops, I did it again, right? Which is as far from Alex Forrest. I think it’s a separate species, you know?

wesley morris

Yeah, it’s a whole sexual reset that’s at the beginning of the internet that we now have, at the beginning of this image-oriented era, where unlike the ‘80s and ‘90s, you now have images with no narrative, images with no story. I mean, that’s one explanation for what I think happened.

parul sehgal

No, it’s so true because I think that one of the things that we’ve been talking about where erotic thrillers went as a genre, but there’s also where did the erotic go, period. And not just in film, but in fiction, for example, it’s gone, you know? And it can be referenced. You can do it lightly. You can be superior to it.

And there’s part of me that when I think about what I want sex in any medium to do. I want there to be food in films. I want there to be human behavior in films. I want, as Roger Ebert once wrote beautifully, in praise of gratuitous nudity. You know? I think you want it to not be instrumental in this particular way, not to have points to make sometimes, you know? But for the challenge of depicting something that is really difficult to articulate, it does pose a very, very particular and interesting challenge to the artist. And you want to see how they will meet it and what they will do with it.

wesley morris

Yes, yes. There’s a lot of data that tells us that younger people especially are having less sex than younger people a decade before. That’s attributable to a lot of things. But I think one of the things that I’m thinking about in terms of why that could be is because there aren’t a lot of stories being told about sex. There’s a lot of extra narrative, non-narrative sexual things happening, but there aren’t a lot of places to see a story where if you remove the sex from it, you have no movie.

parul sehgal

I think that that’s exactly right. I think that we’re seeing, when it comes to sex, we see the hydraulics quite a bit. But we don’t really see the story. We don’t really see the stakes. We don’t really see shock and surprise and need and all of these other sorts of really important ways that we need to sort of configure and to chart our own path. We see sex, if at all often, we see it with younger people. We see it with teenagers. And I’m thinking of “Euphoria.” I mean, this might be a little out of left field, but —

wesley morris

Not here.

parul sehgal

OK, this is a safe space for this. So this is not even an erotic thriller. But when I think of something like “Anna Karenina,” right, which is another great story of infidelity —

wesley morris

Oh, I mean —

parul sehgal

So what is so moving and powerful about that particular story, I think, is, is, it’s not just that Anna Karenina is tempted by younger, dashing Vronsky and annihilates her own life. It’s that the novel is also about custody. It’s about her child. She is going to lose her child. And so when you look at it again, it’s about sexual thrall. But it’s also about all the things that you have to pay for that.

And I think there’s an easy way to look at films and novels like this, saying that, oh, no good orgasm goes unpunished. But I think that they’re also trying to say something really about what happens with sexuality, what happens with this incredible — its incredible disheveling power.

[music]wesley morris

Parul Sehgal, I adore you. I can’t believe that I got to spend this time talking to you. I mean, I can do it in real life, but to be able to do it here is an honor and a pleasure and a thrill.

parul sehgal

Wesley Morris, anytime. Thank you so much.

[music]wesley morris

That’s our show! “Still Processing” is produced by Elyssa Dudley and Hans Buetow; edited by Sarah Sarasohn and Sasha Weiss. The show is mixed by Marion Lozano and recorded by Maddy Masiello. Digital production by Mahima Chablani, Des Ibekwe and June Oh. And our theme music is by Kindness. It’s called, “World Restart,” from the album, “Otherness.” We’re here next week. See you then.

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