January 25, 2005

Take One

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Closer‘s ensemble cast of Natalie Portman, Clive Owen, Jude Law and Julia Roberts displays extraordinary versatility in acting. Nevertheless, behind those dynamic, raw performances is a brutally honest and intelligent script, written by Patrick Marber, who also wrote the play of the same name. Marber uses a deep understanding of people to write one of the best screenplays of the year.

Some have found parts of the film vulgar and inappropriate. While there are no sex scenes, the dialogue is often jarring. I saw people walk out of the movie theater. The film is not merely about miserable people making other people miserable. Rather, the film precisely illustrates the vulnerability that people experience in relationships because of their shifting dynamics. The story is sincere and profound, and the characters are captivating and believable. Marber intimately focuses on four individuals, Dan (Law), Alice (Portman), Larry (Owen) and Anna (Roberts), all of whom have severe difficulties connecting with, and getting closer to, one another.

We are led to believe that Alice is the only pure character of the four, but this assumption is challenged at the end of the film, when it is revealed that Alice’s name is really Jane, and that she had been living a fantasy during her time in England. There is clear foreshadowing of this event; earlier in the film, Alice tells Larry that “everybody loves a big fat lie,” and later, that “lying is the most fun a girl can have without taking her clothes off.”

Jane picks the name Alice from one of the plaques on the wall of a London memorial garden; the plaque, which is shown at the end, says that a woman named Alice Ayers died saving three children. In the play, the character of Alice (i.e. Jane) also dies at the end, but not in the film. Nevertheless, the illusion she had created does die.

One could argue that she ironically saved the other three characters in the film, not in any sort of conventional way, but in a way in which she made them more awake and curious. Dan, who writes obituaries, Larry, who would rather chat on the Internet than in person, and Anna, who uses her camera to see the world, are all isolated before Alice arrives. At least for a short while, Alice saves them from their misery. By showing them the intricacies of love and relationships, she saves them from themselves.

Alice initially inspires Dan, in particular. Marber portrays Dan’s character as if he is a child. At one point, Anna sarcastically asks him if he’s twelve. Perhaps more significantly, Dan is still mourning over the death of his mother, and is searching for a nurturing figure. After all, he seems to fall in love with Alice when she cleans his glasses at the hospital, and with Anna when she fixes his tie during a photo shoot.

Alice’s relationship with Dan is based on an illusion, and at the end of the film, Dan threatens this by his insistence on the truth about whether or not Alice and Larry slept together. Whether they actually did is brilliantly left up to interpretation, but Dan cannot learn to trust Alice, and in the final hotel room scene, Alice ironically tests him by saying, “This is the moment of your life.” Indeed it was, and seconds later, he ruined it. “I would have loved you forever,” Alice then tragically tells him, “but now it’s too late.”

Alice returns to New York, and we see her walking confidently down the street in the final shot, with heads turning and staring at her. They can’t take their eyes off of her. This time, however, she does not make the mistake of returning their gazes, as she did with Dan in the film’s opening scene. This final shot also illustrates that lust is not the same thing as love, something that Anna, Larry and Dan were never able to understand.

Closer is an absorbing dialogue-driven film. The metaphors are smart, such as smoking reflecting the characters’ inability to overcome their struggles with loneliness, and they seem to constantly create conflict for themselves. They are unfaithful to one another, but they are almost always truthful. Sadly, even the truth isn’t enough for them to get closer. It is an art film that tells a timeless story of how relationships can shift from uplifting to tragic in a moment’s notice. The film is not for everyone, but it can be, if you look close enough.

Archived article by Avash Kalra
Sun Staff Writer