If you want to know how sexy was defined in the 80s…you need to see Body Heat! William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, a very young Ted Danson, and even freaking Mickey Rourke! This steamy Lawrence Kasdan noir drama definitely has the sizzle. After you watch this film, you will never see wind chimes the same again.
But I want to talk about the Literary Archetype of the Femme Fatale, French for Fatal Woman. That should tell you something. It’s a female character that somehow manages to manipulate men through charm, deception, sexual wiles, or even physical force. In the archetypes original state, it was even believe she could use supernatural means.
One key element to the femme fetale M.O. is that she often plays the victim or someone trapped in a situation that she needs help escaping. But make no mistake…these women are villainous and morally ambiguous which makes them fascinating character studies.
Kathleen Turner’s Matty Walker has ALL of these elements. It’s not until the very end of the story that we see just how calculating and manipulative and utterly evil this character really is…and THAT is good storytelling!
The femme fetale archetype goes way back to the Greeks: the Sirens, Circe, Aphrodite, Medea, Clytemnestra, and even Helen of Troy. There’s Morgan le Fay from the King Arthur legends and The Queen of the Night from Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute. It took the Marquis de Sade to turn the femme fetale into a character that is a heroine. Oscar Wilde agreed and cast his femme fetale as Salome in his play of the same name.
Sociologist suggest that the femme fetale is so powerful because she is a direct challenge to man dominance while appearing weak, but being fully in control. She is a master of deception and ultimately uses the perceived weaknesses of the feminine to outwit, manipulate, and ultimately control the masculine. I feel this is why this archetype is such a powerful and captivating one. And Kathleen Turner gives us a memorable almost textbook example in Body Heat.