Let’s hear it for cable! And for delicious films that we may never have seen when they were released to the theaters. Like Closer – an unexpected treat I enjoyed last night, so effectively constructed that I watched it twice in succession.
The characters are stunning. The dialog is smart and raw. Each of the players speaks of lies and truth, of being strangers, and desiring strangers. They couple and uncouple, feigning closeness, or perhaps convinced of it. They fall in love, fall out of love. They act with everyday cunning.
Directed by Mike Nichols (Carnal Knowledge) and written by Patrick Marber, Closer was released in 2004, boasting an impressive cast – Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, Jude Law, and Clive Owen – and a complex set of romantic entanglements.
These four strangely disconnected individuals meet, are attracted, and become involved. Scenes assemble and reassemble in a satisfying circle that advances and retreats, filled with symmetrical moments, with rhythms that keep us slightly off balance and unable to attach allegiances to any of the characters. We’re unsure who to cheer on, whose love is sincere, and whose lies are the most damning.
How many of us are wounded on the sexual battlefield? How many refuse to admit, even years later, that we never truly knew our partner? And if the relationship does not end, and appears to run smoothly – do lies matter?
Closer addresses the possibility that not knowing our lovers may be a blessing, or an inevitability; truth is wielded as a weapon and an excuse, just as we may brandish our lies. The women and the men both seem to realize that futures dangle from a fragile chain of words.
The particular battlefield between Clive Owen’s and Jude Law’s characters – each competing at different points for both women – creates a mesmerizing tug-of-war. The prize is a woman’s body, as territory to be taken and held. Is love even present? Is sexual conquest the end, or the means to an end?
While each character takes a turn in alternating positions of strength, certitude, weakness and doubt, we watch as they resist or give in – to a kiss, a cigarette, to carnal lust more fully developed. They all lie, while insisting on a goal of truth like some false god. Truth as excuse. Truth as selfishness. Truth as capacity to gut.
When Jude Law’s character attempts to leave Natalie Portman for Julia Roberts, he says “I fell in love with her,” as though that absolves him of accountability for a year of cheating.
As if you had no choice? There’s a moment. There’s always a moment. I can do this, I can give in to this, or I can resist it.
Seduction and Uncertainty
Nichols uses remarkable restraint in this film that blurs love and lust, with an “all’s fair in love and war” approach we see enacted by one of the characters. The film never goes too far, instead offering us the uncanny abilities of Portman and Roberts both to melt us with an expression. We’re nudged closer to experiencing the essence of seduction, if not love.
And so we ask ourselves: Are we compelled to transform lust into love when it endures for years? What breaks trust, and what rebuilds it? If the truth is orchestrated, is it actually a lie?
These men and women are nothing like us. These men and women are just like us. The register of intimacy may be deceptive. As are the uncomfortable questions that linger.
Image, Closer Poster, Wiki, fair use.