Glenn Close: The Art of Female Villainy

26 Feb


Pity the female villain.

Male villains can look forward to world domination, tons of moolah and all the power they can handle; females, on the other hand, spend all their time scheming to sabotage various weddings when they’re not forcing their daughters-in-law to mop floors while dressed in rags or nagging their husbands to death. And if somehow they manage to stumble onto a bitchin’ gig, they might just find themselves laboring under gallons of body paint and CGI because God forbid they show an actual live woman having the sort of fun men having been having for ages now (before getting blown up or dissolved in a vat of acid, naturally).

Male villains get cool names, all the chicks they can bang, and fly around the world like the billionaires they frequently are; female villains are typically the mom or the wife from hell, nobody loves them much less wants to bang them, and all their plotting and planning usually leaves them with a wrinkly face.

Chee. Who’d want to be a female villain?

So it’s always nice to stumble across a proper villain in a dress. Especially when it’s Glenn Close.

Every ten years or so, Close manages to play one woman character who is so dead-on perfect for that decade, it’s absolutely uncanny. They’re not your run-of-the-mill female villains; they embody everything we’re supposed to fear about women that generation. It’s no accident that they’ve become by-words in pop culture.

Fatal Attraction (1987) – Clearly, there’s something fishy about Alex Forrest (Close). She’s a sexy, capable, career woman who knows what she wants and when. She could have anybody at all but she inexplicably sets her sights on the charming (some would say smarmy but that’s just Michael Douglas for you) Dan Gallagher.

Good ol’ Dan, our sympathetic hero, has a wife and little girl at home but when offered an illicit weekend with the sexy Alex, Dan couldn’t be more ready. The sex is amazing but once the weekend’s over and the wife is on her way back, Dan would like nothing better than to put it all behind him. This is when Alex informs him that she has some ideas of her own. Ideas she probably culled from a horror movie.


By the time the 80s rolled around, sexism was still rampant in the workplace not to mention the home, but change was definitely afoot in the gender wars. However, things hadn’t evolved to the extent where strong, successful women working outside their homes were the accepted norm. Close, dressed in those sexy suits with her hair done just so and the mascara smudging around her eyes so you wondered whether she’d just rolled out of somebody’s bed or was finishing up a long day at the office, perfectly captures the threat implied by women like Alex.

She is off the leash, so to speak, a woman whose sexual liberation conveniently masks a sexual predator; the ice queen who (spoiler alert!) could boil a child’s bunny rabbit without a qualm to send her prey a message; the bitch who threatens to emasculate you because she is more powerful than you. Even her uterus, that sacred vessel of life, is a threat to this decent family man who made one little mistake and his innocent family.

Towards the end of the movie, it really does transform itself from a thriller to a horror film, but that too is in line with its theme of a woman run amok – she’s not just an evil woman, she’s a monster. She can’t merely be defeated, she must be eliminated because she will not stop! By the time she meets her end at the hands of the Good Wife right when things look very black indeed for the Erring Husband, it’s turned deliciously 80s… yet Alex the Psycho is such a powerful image, she resonates even today.

Continue reading the rest of this post at Ultra Violet


Posted by on February 26, 2009 in Entertainment


11 responses to “Glenn Close: The Art of Female Villainy

  1. WSW

    February 26, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    I love Glenn Close..loved her as the psycho Alexx…and yes Douglas is swarmy..really…Cruella was a class apart..I think in between she slipped into playing some spine-less VP to Harrison Ford’s president(i think it was Ford, not sure) in some thriller and such roles but glad to read about damages..will catch it sometime on TV.

  2. Gagan

    February 26, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    i agree douglas is smarmy…but he was perfect for the role …kind of a latter day jekyl and hyde.. victorian bourgoise audiences took a similar vicarious thrill out of all the things hyde did and then were assured the security of punishment in the end .. kind of reinforce their notions about the temptations of the unwashed hordes…

    the modern yuppie life is like that in a lot of ways for a lot of a certain point the good life is hard won and a wrong step could just blow it all .. people who have lived the straight and narrow and then they just step out of their box and discover all these freedoms that they were too busy to consider on their road to success.. film like that is a warning not to…culturally biased though…just could not believe a character that smart could get worked up over a man like that.. so intense …so serious…glen close deserved better… loved her character on the west wing.. the brilliant judge…

  3. Banno

    February 27, 2009 at 2:15 am

    Glenn Close makes me shiver. You’ve elaborated it so well. Just hadn’t thought of all that in this way before.

    Pity I haven’t seen ‘Damages’. Wonder if it will ever come to Indian TV?

  4. wordjunkie

    February 27, 2009 at 7:04 am

    Banno, Damages is already in India – check the AXN channel.

  5. Amey

    February 27, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    Well, since behind every successful man is a woman (or two), I think you already have world domination covered 😉

  6. Amrita

    February 27, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    WSW – Air Force One!!! In which she basically sat at a table and looked concerned while Ford was up to all sorts of heroics up in the air. Yeah, that was a paycheck movie.

    Gagan – he’s really good in those sorts of roles. Like in Wall St, and this movie he shined… the American President (much as I liked it as rainy day fare), not so much.
    That is such an interesting point you make about Victorian norms… that really hits off the Indian Evil Woman doesn’t it?
    Fatal Attraction was amazing right up until the last half hour or so. And then it was good entertainment but it was like the first part was written by someone else. I still feel Douglas skipped what was coming to him.

    Banno & Wordjunkie – I hope you catch it!

    Amey – I’d rather straight up domination. All this behind the scene jhanjhat is too much work,

  7. Gagan

    February 27, 2009 at 9:08 pm

    really ….no better example of victorian norms than India…

    owning ur sexuality is not allowed in general..cos that would kind of subvert that parent child dialectic that exists…the kind of cutesy attitude to sex when its shown its healthiest light and then the rape fantasies as the other end.. too victorian for words.. not much of just adults making choices and expressing being in charge of themeselves…hate to generalize but it has to be connected.. read in john fowles french lieutenants woman . . the historical asides at a time when people covered up table legs out of the sense of immodesty there were more brothels per square mile in London than any other time in its history…yeah and it is definitely hard on women in India..
    evil is so simple just revealing clothes, makeup and if they’re out there drink in hand…Helen was great cos she just didn’t seem to care…but now it’s become kind of showy
    which seems no less silly.. why not real people just hanging at doing their thing.. guess that’s what u were getting at 🙂

  8. Gagan

    February 27, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    yeah Amrita douglas ..i heard it said somewhere that he plays the WASP asshole to a key….thought it was dead on

  9. Amey

    February 28, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    Amrita Douglas? When did that happen?

    Given your preference for gold and diamonds, I am imagining your lair 😀

  10. Gagan

    February 28, 2009 at 9:23 pm


    hey, Amey just my laziness on display there…nothing to to do with our host…c’est-a-dire….” Amrita, ….I heard it said of Douglas..blah blah”
    writing clearly is tedious…thought broadcasting would be cool if it weren’t a sign of psychosis…x-men are just comic book characters aren’t they?

  11. Amey

    February 28, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    Naah, I think my understanding is more fun 😉

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