Friday, February 3, 2012

Getting [Even] Closer

Article first published (in abbreviated form) as Movie Review: Closer on

Closer isn’t always better.

You know those times when you’re like: “TMI! TMI! Too Much Information!”

Okay, I’m joking. Those times are rarely that serious. But there are times when something happens or something's shared that you just wish had never happened. Either because the incident will just make things awkward or because now things will never be the same. Point is, sharing, being vulnerable, being exposed - it can mean happily growing closer; it can also mean letting in something deadly. And it is that latter point the film Closer (2004) exposes.

Closer is about a love quadrangle, in which everyone seeks love but comes out looking the worse for it.

We all know relationships are complicated. But how many realize, or explore to quite the same depth as director Mike Nichols' film does, how really seriously messy relationships can be?

Closer opens with a girl (Natalie Portman), hair dyed pink, walking down a London street catching the eye of a guy (Jude Law).

Then she gets hit by a car. because she's American and she's forgot Londoners drive on the left.

She's introduced as Alice; we learn she's a stripper.

He's introduced as Daniel, an aspiring novelist who in the meantime writes obituaries for a local newspaper.

Jump ahead: Daniel's getting his portrait taken by a photographer named Anna (Julia Roberts). The portrait photo is for the cover jacket of his new novel, which it turns out tells the lifestory of a girl named Alice. Through the dialogue we learn he and the real-life Alice are now romantically involved.
But when Daniel learns his latest acquaintance, Anna (the photographer), is often inspired as he is by the sudden connections she forms with strangers, he quickly grows fond of her and she of him. They kiss.

Alice shows up.

She's overheard the two talking and is pissed. Anna photographs her crying.

Jump ahead: Daniel is luring in an at-this-time-anonymous dermatologist through an online chatroom by pretending to be a woman. Daniel pretends his name is Anna and says they should meet tomorrow at the aquarium, which happens to be the favorite hang-out spot for the real-life Anna.

The next day our dermatologist goes to the aquarium. He sees Anna sitting on a bench, as if waiting for someone. He introduces himself as Larry. Of course she doesn’t recognize him.

They realize they’ve been played. But they roll with it. Larry buys Anna balloons when he learns it’s her birthday. A year or so later, they’re married.

The film proceeds in the same matter-of-fact, quick-cutting fashion – with the weight of the action carried along by dialogue. Which is partly because the script was composed by the same man Patrick Marber who wrote the theatrical play the film is based on. It also makes for a fascinating, teasing tension in which all our main characters talk often and quite explicitly about sex, relationships, and the gritty details in between. But we never actually see any sex on the screen.

And yes, Daniel cheats on Alice. And Anna cheats on Larry. And then even Anna cheats on Daniel. And Alice, though ever loyal, when pushed to the edge even cheats on Daniel.

As you can see, it gets pretty complicated.

There is a point in the film, about two thirds of the way through, at which Daniel had thus far been the only one we know has cheated on anyone. And yet he’s been the most charming, so we still like him. But the tables turn. And we almost feel bad for the too-emotional writer-type. It’s even raining. And he’s got no umbrella. We almost feel bad for him.

But then we see, he asks too much. Like the journalist he is, he’s compelled to ask questions in the hope to know “Truth!” But the compulsion fails him; all his relationships sour. By the end, he and the other three characters all know too much. And we too as the viewers know too much too, which is why I think many reviews of the film (including this one from the NY Times) are negative, because sometimes it is better not to know.

So at the end, when Daniel goes to Alice, and they’re in a hotel, snuggling: in his quest for “Truth,” he asks if she’s slept with Larry – “needing to know” because it’s “what sets us apart from animals.” He gets frustrated and leaves the apartment. And then he decides to come back, realizing in the end it doesn’t really matter.

But it’s too late: Alice won’t forgive him, she doesn’t love him anymore: she didn’t want to lie to him, but she couldn’t tell the truth because then she knew he’d hate him (or so she’s presumed). So everything now is ruined. She returns to New York alone.

The film ends with… Well, wait: I can’t tell you that. Then you’d know too much, and the film’d be ruined. Just go watch it for yourself.

You’ll see: The film f**ks with your head. It messes with you, makes you as viewer (because it’s a movie drama about relationships) want to sympathize with the characters’ plight (and the actors/actresses are good-looking and they’re likable and good at what they do). But then by the end, if we like them at all, it’s only after expending a whole lot of effort making excuses and blaming ourselves, as if we were the ones in the relationship and not the characters on screen.

The film is also really remarkable for how it cuts through the four protagonists’ lives with chronological gaps that you’ve got to fill in yourself, which keeps the intrigue alive. Until the end, when you now know all and realize nothing will ever again be the way it was.

I suspect that’s the point: Being close, being intimate, being honest … it’s nice. It means getting closer, getting to know people deeper / better – and if loneliness is a disease, growing close to others could be the cure.

BUT at least as far as this film goes to show – there’s always something toxic that with intimacy grows.

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