I am still trying to work out how I feel about Closer, Mike Nichols’ film version of a 1997 play by Patrick Marber. It is described as a drama/romance. I think it is the drama of attempted romance and a smattering of rather cynical comedy emerges as a result
A young woman, played by Natalie Portman, is hit by a cab as she crosses a London street. She is aided by Dan (Jude Law), a would-be novelist who is employed as an obituary writer. As they walk along after she has been tended to in the emergency room, they come across a cemetery memorial for people who died saving others. Dan asks the girl her name and she says it is Alice. She had been a stripper in New York. She moves in with Dan (though we find this out later; the time sequencing is uneven but it adds a quality to the film that keeps the viewer engaged trying to figure out what’s happening and when.)
Later, Dan has written a book that is to be published and his photographic portrait is being taken by Anna (Julia Roberts using her name from Notting Hill and the camera skills she learned in Step-Mom, I guess). They are immediately attracted to one another. And Alice notices this immediately, too. She becomes suspicious – and acts on it.
One night Dan is conversing in a sex chat room with a doctor, a dermatologist, named Larry. Dan pretends he is a woman named Anna and sets up a meeting at the London Aquarium. Interestingly enough, this is one of Anna’s places where she goes to think, and Larry finds her there. They fall in love and marry.
But all is not well. The two couples over time go back and forth with each other and just when we think one of the characters is going to be kind, or the relationships settled, he or she persecutes the other with demands for truth about infidelity.
Closer is an intelligent film, but not a particularly enjoyable one. The acting is quite good but often the interaction of the characters is just plain tedious. One reviewer said the film is an exercise in nihilism – I agree. This isn’t about the unity of bodies and souls, it is about bodies that cannot find their souls.
Perhaps the truth of the film, what we see and feel (the photography and skin metaphors are obvious devices; the aquarium fish/sharks and wolf – Dan’s last name – are as well), is that a true, lasting relationship and marriage cannot be built on lies and lack of trust. No one can get closer to anyone with falsehood and immaturity in the way. Each of the characters is in desperate need for a connection to another human being, for intimacy. They want to get closer, but the closer they get, the more distant they become. The characters are convinced that sex is everything, never quite realizing that it cannot substitute for genuine intimacy. The willing sacrifice of self for thebenefit of another is not just a suggestion for love and lasting relationships, but an absolute necessity.
The tag line for the film is: If you believe in love at first sight, you’ll always be looking. (I think this summer’s Garden State used the same line in it.) The characters are in need of some serious maturity, instead they are seriously adolescent. They keep on looking, they don’t forgive and ‘closer’ is unattainable.
If this is funny, I missed the joke. It’s actually kind of sad.
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