Closer (15)


Dir: Mike Nichols

Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Clive Owen

Big things were expected of this adaptation of a successful Patrick Marber stage play, but unfortunately even the big screen might of Jude Law et al, can't save this indifferent film version from drowning in a sea of dialogue-filled nothingness.

Closer is essentially the story of infidelity and decadence in 21 st century London - the trendy areas of course - involving four very different personalities who come together with the common goal of inflicting emotional misery upon one another. The story begins with failing writer Dan (Law) falling for enigmatic American stripper Alice (Natalie Portman) in the aftermath of a random incident involving a black cab. Via one of several time leaps in the script however, we are soon fast-forwarded a year into the future - to the day Dan decides to trade in his sweetheart for Anna (Julia Roberts), a melancholy photographer he's just met. Though she initially falls for his smarmy charms, their illicit relationship is halted before it's really begun when Anna finds a new love interest in the form of passive/aggressive doctor Larry (Clive Owen). An awkward love quadrangle ensues, encompassing break-ups, breakdowns, sex, deceit, and more than a handful of tearful confessions.

Though the dialogue is fast-paced and often dangerously sharp, Closer is clearly in pursuit of the intellectual recognition it so craves, employing an eternity of meaningless one-liners about life and love throughout. "You think love is simple? You think the heart is like a diagram?" Dan asks in one scene. "Ever seen the human heart? It looks like a fist wrapped in blood," replies Larry with Shakespearian vigour. Eh? If real people ever talk like this, they don't frequent the same places I do.

Despite the best efforts of the actors involved, all four characters display an emotional depth shallower than a paddling pool with a puncture. Not only did I not care one iota about the lives of these unbearable individuals, I was actually hoping the film would end in tragedy for the sake of mankind. Sadly though, it didn't, and on went the perpetual cycle of partner swapping until the very end - by which time I simply took solace in the fact that people like this don't really exist anyway.

William Summers 16/01/05


Right at the beginning of the film, Dan (Jude Law) asks Anna (Julia Roberts) to "come closer." He's a stranger, but she does, and they kiss. His request is offhand, sexily confident, but as we get to know him and the other three main characters, we realize that their desperation for closeness in Closer is monstrously selfish and ultimately tragic.

Walking down a street in London, newly arrived ex-stripper Alice (Natalie Portman) locks eyes with a gorgeous, intense stranger - Dan. That moment of intimacy develops into a syrupy sweet romance. But as so often happens, their relationship becomes asymmetrical: she loves him "beyond comprehension," as Larry (Clive Owens) later acidly remarks, but he falls in love with Anna, a professional photographer, in the space of a few minutes in her studio. Larry is actually Anna's dermatologist boyfriend, and loves her with raw sexuality and remarkable sincerity. All four of them become interrelated in complicated ways, and the film presents the story in a complex, non-linear timeline consisting of flashbacks and quick jumps forward of months and years.

Nevertheless, it is clear that this film is about the brutality of intimacy: deception, addiction and necessity. It is disturbingly pessimistic about the possibility of decent relationships: "Why is love not enough?" cries Alice, as Dan confesses his cheating. "This is going to hurt," he says, and it does - not only for her, but for everyone in the audience who has ever been rejected by the person they love more than anyone else in the world.

Yet it also asks questions about the standard tropes we use to think about love. Both relationships are built on lies, but they are trivial and indeed, funny. It is honesty that hurts in this film. Or perhaps it is not truth that maims, but our mindless desire for it: "There is no pre-established harmony between furthering the truth and the well-being of humanity," said Nietzsche. Both Dan and Larry are obsessed with knowing the terrible truth of their lovers' cheating, but for Larry it is because he expresses love through sex, while for Dan, sex is a way of possessing a woman. This crucial difference is the key to their fates, and both get what they deserve.

Anna and Alice, on the other hand, rely on lies to build and maintain their relationships, perhaps because they fear that their men cannot handle the truth. This is particularly the case if that truth

includes them wanting and enjoying sex with other men. What about forgiveness? It has a powerful role in this film, but so does justice. And even reconciliation is realistically hard, violent and sexual.

Closer is compelling in part because its theme is common: relationships are incredibly painful because people do cheat, lie, get jealous, and break their own and each other's hearts. But the movie itself is not at all common, for in depicting sordid selfishness and weakness in truly intimate and insightful detail, it makes life aesthetic. The tragic beauty of love is that it does not work, that it hurts, that it may not even exist - but that is also what makes it grand.

Lindsay Oishi 31/02/05