Posted Monday, December 20th, 2004
Closer: A Movie Review
I was looking forward to seeing the new Mike Nichol’s film, “Closer,” since I have recently been a victim of cupid’s dark forces. Nursing my broken heart and disavowing all “romantic propaganda,” I found a film about four gorgeous people engaging in a kind of relationship warfare truly appealing. Ready with popcorn, I headed into the theater for what I hoped would be an experience that left me feeling romantically superior to smug couples the world over. “Closer” was happy to oblige.
“Closer” is the story of two couples whose lives and relationships intertwine in modern London. Dan (Jude Law) meets Alice (Natalie Portman) after locking eyes with her just before she is hit by a car. Alice is rendered temporarily unconscious and wakes up with Jude Law kneeling beside her. We watch as they journey to the hospital, stroll through London getting to know each other and fall in love all in one day. But I knew this film was about destruction so I was not worried. I knew that this smitten love fest would not last.
Enter the beautiful Anna (Julia Roberts) who Dan meets sometime later. Dan is immediately smitten. The complicated part is that he is still living with Alice. Dan does not seem to consider this an obstacle to his coupling with Anna, and while Alice is out of the room he demands that Anna see him again. Anna refuses. Angry with Anna’s rebuffs, Dan signs on to an internet chat room and, posing as Anna, propositions an unknown stranger. When this unknown stranger, Larry (Clive Owen), shows up to meet Anna he is shocked to learn that his internet partner was not really the beautiful Anna, but rather a bitter man. Fortunately for Larry, he and Anna end up dating. And so begins our wild tale of relationship mayhem… saddled with my vat of popcorn and 12-liter soda, I was ready for disaster to strike.
The rest of the movie follows the four characters in and out of their relationships with each other as they each explore the shameless limits of their respective libidos. We see a devoted and needy Alice beg Dan not to leave her. We see a tearful Julia Roberts tell her newlywed husband about her affair with another man. And we see Dan and Larry confront each other about their involvement with Alice and Anna. The movie is exactly what I was looking for beautiful people behaving badly towards each other. “Closer” affirmed that couple-hood, and dating in general, is emotionally risky business.
However, as movie progressed, I became frustrated that we were never offered a satisfactory explanation for the behaviors of these people. They seemed to be ruled by their lust and act on the slightest impulse, but the audience is never given any insight into what motivates the characters. In our culture of self-examination we need to know all the details. “Closer” did not offer any of these details. What happened to cause these people to flee from relationship to relationship? I have been spoiled by the MTV confessional concept. I wanted to get Alice alone for a minute and hear her take on Dan’s lust for Anna. I watched Anna’s obvious self-loathing as she informs her lovers of her infidelities, but we never know what is going on inside. These characters do not take their shifting romances casually, as tearful scenes dominate the film, yet they make no attempts to make relationships work the way I assume “successful” couples must. What makes these characters different, I wonder?
Well, for one thing, they are all devastatingly good looking. Roberts and Portman are both so lovely that it is almost painful to continue looking at them for an hour and a half. Owen and Law are not too shabby either. I wonder if in the world of “beautiful people” one is powerless to resist impulse. Is it possible that in the world of the truly gorgeous you can become so accustomed to the power of your beauty that you abandon all morals and accountability? This isn’t a question I can answer as I live in the world of the “moderately attractive.”
Or could the behavior of these people be a reflection of the values of our society? I find myself thinking no. Recently, I have seen several movies that I term “romantic propaganda” which glorify the concept of true love and devotion. And I see examples of this in many of the couples that I know. Even though we glorify beauty and youth I think we still hold on to the real value we find in honesty, loyalty and friendship. Don’t we?
Maybe it’s just those crazy Brits! The movie was set in London is it a reflection of their relationships and values? Well, the Bush Administration might buy into the concept that the continent of Europe is morally depraved, but I don’t. I think there are people in lasting and true relationships “across the pond.”
So, you see, I could not grasp what motivates these people. And that made the movie feel flaky and contrived.
However, it is obvious that the film lived up to my expectations for non-romantic propaganda. It was disturbing, and you could easily leave the theater feeling that you are better off alone. Unfortunately for me, my plan to feel superior to the happy couples of the world backfired. Throughout the movie I found myself fighting the idea that these people were the norm. The couples that I compared them to the couples that I know in the “real world” are loving and devoted. The people I know are trying to build the best relationships possible. I laid in bed that night feeling adamant that relationships were misrepresented in the film. The characters chose to be impulsive, passionate and dramatic when a loving and honest relationship can be so much more fulfilling. So it turns out that instead of leaving me feeling smug and self-satisfied, “Closer” forced me to accept that I am a sappy optimist about relationships.
It would have been so much easier to be smug.
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