It’s difficult to ‘like’ “Closer”, but it’s difficult to simply dismiss it either – and this makes it an interesting film.
I have been watching and re-watching Patrick Marber’s (1994) film adaptation of his stage drama for about 5 years; I have been enthralled every single time without every really putting my finger on exactly what I am have been enthralled with. Yes, the cast is beautiful and talented and this never hurts. Yes, it has some sexual titillation but, I don’t think I am quite at the point of needing my thrills quite so vicariously (yet!) and yes, it is directed by Mike Nichols of “The Graduate” and (more interestingly for this post) “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (WAoVW). All of these elements appeal to me for various reasons but even when combined, they don’t quite explain my ongoing fascination and so, I am going to attempt to articulate that fascination right here.
Like WAoVW before it, “Closer” tackles the subject/s of intimacy and the cost we sometimes pay for allowing intimacy into our lives. Also like WAoVW, “Closer” looks at infidelity and sexual one-upmanship, highlighting the pain we cause those we purport to love when we seek only to fulfill our own desire/s. Based around 2 rotating couples (Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen) who each inevitably use, need, manipulate and betray the other/s as they spin in and out of each others’ lives. “Closer” is a nasty film in the way that WAoVW was a nasty film – it shines an unflinching light on how love does not necessarily bring out the best in us, and perhaps even asks us to consider if love even exists for these characters at all or if they are all just playing a game of spin the partner.
One of the most disturbing scenes is when Dan (Law) comes home to (then) partner Alice (Portman) and declares “This is gonna hurt” and proceeds to confess that he has been sleeping with Anna (Roberts) for the past 12 months and is now leaving Alice for her. Alice becomes increasingly fearful and distressed as she begins to realise that she is actually losing Dan, it feels almost barbarous to sit and witness her distress as it mounts and she asks imploringly for Dan to hug her and although he does, we, as those who have perhaps been in similar break-ups, recognise that really, Dan simply wishes that Alice would vanish so that he can get on with being with the other woman in his life without the complication of Alice. Perhaps this is what drives my discomfort – the recognition that I have done this myself to somebody that I claimed to love and to care about – I have ‘wished’ them out-of-the-way, I am complicit with this rather revolting character as he smashes young Alice’s heart into smithereens.
By the end of course, young Alice is shown to be far from the innocent ingénue that she portrayed herself to be, in fact, she may just be the most devious of them all (and this is seriously disturbing). For while the vitriolic Larry (Owens) who cannot help but see female sexuality as something to be conquered and boasted about, the indecisive and somewhat devious Anna and the rather pathetic and deluded Dan are all incredibly flawed characters, it is the waif-like stripper Alice who has truly been wearing armour all along, even if she does prove to be the most honest of them all.