In 1987, Michael Douglas thought with his genitalia and endangered his wife, his daughter and the family rabbit. “Fatal Attraction” wasn’t a movie about sex addiction per se, but it had a clear message about cause and effect: sexual impulsiveness destroys you and those around you. 26 years later the message is a little different: give in to sexual compulsion and it’ll be hard for you to be a lovable romcom subject.
This, at least, is the potential takeaway from two new films about sex addiction (“Thanks For Sharing”) and online porn addiction (“Don Jon”). It’s (probably) important to note that Joseph Gordon-Levitt — star/director/writer of “Don Jon” — swears he hasn’t made a film about porn or porn addiction per se. Instead, the story of a dude who hooks up a lot but can’t have a normal relationship because of his adoration of online pornography is a “metaphor” for “how people objectify each other,” thereby making it tough to have normal relationships. Note, though, that Gordon-Levitt doesn’t place his loved ones in jeopardy or really affect anyone but himself. Likewise, “Thanks For Sharing” focuses on two dudes (Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins) whose behavior — aside from one climactic (unavoidable pun dispensed with early on) scene — endangers them, but only skeezes out others. Both end with hugs and understanding all round, with the addicts rehabilitated as the lovable leading men they really are.
Now reconsider 1987’s dual stories about male sexual temptation and its dangers, bigger and scarier than anything encountered now. The template for “Fatal Attraction” is 1971’s “Play Misty For Me,” in which callow radio DJ Clint Eastwood has a one-night stand with Jessica Harper, who initially comes off as a proto Manic Pixie Dream Girl, her annoying mannerisms a hint she’s actually a psychotic lunatic. It’s a wildly offensive movie but it keeps your attention, which is also true of its more amped-up reworking “Fatal Attraction,” in which it’s not just a single man whose life is at stake. Future Paramount CEO Sherry Lansing was a producer because she was drawn to the original form of the script, in which Glenn Close’s Alex Forrest is a career woman she empathized with, if still suffering from some kind of psychological problem.