Closer is a bloody scary film. Oh, I know it looks from the pictures like just another film about relationships and sex and such, maybe even a romantic comedy. But it’s terrifying. The idea that there are people like these in the world is a little concerning from the get-go — but Closer at times made me wonder if, with just a few more years of world-weariness, I too could end up as a cheating, lying, manipulative bastard. This is probably the only way I could possibly have enjoyed a film about bastards. Lots of people will dismiss a film if they don’t care about any of the people (and I’m sure a lot of them did just that to Closer) — but if the unsympathetic people in question are accurately and understandably drawn, and you start to see elements of yourself in them, then you can find yourself linked to them, despite your strong dislike.

I’m probably selling the characters short at this point. Natalie Portman’s Alice is pretty adorable, and I don’t think I’m just being beguiled by the Portman charm. Julia Roberts’ Anna is nice, in a cowardly, detached sort of way. Clive Owen plays Larry, a slightly sex-obsessed, genuine sort of a guy… who turns out to be disturbingly obsessive and have a considerable nasty streak. But I liked him for a large amount of the film. Dan, played by Jude Law, is the only one I really wanted to beat up, but then he went and got a bit sympathetic at the end. And then lost it again pretty soon.

So here’s the story; at least, here’s the start of it. In London, Dan meets Alice, an ex-stripper from New York, and they start dating. He writes a book about her life. As a result, he meets Anna, a photographer, and starts hitting on her,1 but gets shot down. So he sends a pervert called Larry from an online chatroom to meet Anna. But he turns out to be quite a nice pervert — a doctor — and they start dating.2 But then Dan and Anna meet up again and start to have an affair, which goes on while Anna and Larry get married.

What’s that? You reckon things go badly from here? Why yes, yes they do. How did you know?

If you watch Closer — and I recommend that you do — watch out for the dialogue. It’s intense stuff. The film was adapted from a play by the original author, and it shows. The direction, the locations, are excellent, but the words hardly need them. There’s a scene between Owen and Portman in a strip joint that was particularly enthralling.3 The actors rarely miss a beat, making every one of the rapid-fire confrontations almost thrilling, despite the static nature of the action. My only concern was at Anna’s attraction to Dan — I just wasn’t sold that there was any chemistry between them. However, I have to acknowledge that there must be women out there who are attracted to cheating bastards, because otherwise, who would the cheating bastards cheat with?

The film jumps ahead in time (and backwards and forwards on occasion), but consistently refuses to do any of that fading in and out stuff that we’ve come to associate with these things. This was another element that — favourably in my case — reminded me of seeing a play. It often takes a few minutes to work out just how far you’ve travelled, which I loved.4

Closer has a lot to say about honesty in relationships; demanding it, providing it, knowing when to seek answers and when to let something go. Things that you once thought were simple may appear more complex afterwards; things that seemed complex may now seem simple. Things that were somewhere in the middle will probably stay there. I think there’s some kind of axis involved. Clever,5 intense and slightly tragic. And really good.

  1. Can you guess where I started to hate him? No one screws over Natalie Portman and gets away with it. I’ve never truly forgiven Darth Vader either.
  2. Momma always said, a doctor is a good catch. Even a perverted one.
  3. No, no, because of the words. Pay attention.
  4. On the flip side, I know a few people who’d probably hate that kind of thing.
  5. I remember people criticising the film on release for having characters that were “too clever” with their words. I address this issue in my second book, “Just How Cool Could Normal People Plausibly Be?” For those who can’t be bothered reading a non-existent book, I shall summarise my position — if you can happily watch a film where people can outrun explosions on foot, then what the hell is your problem with imagining that humanity can string sentences together coherently and quickly?
I don't want to lie. I can't tell the truth. So it's over. — Alice

2 Responses to “Closer”

  1. I’m pretty sure that stripper scene is pretty much word for word from the play. Did you see the production at Monash that Isabelle was in? Adds a whole new level to its creepiness when its Is and her boyfriend doing the scene.. In a complimentary way, of course.

    I agree about Julia Roberts. She didn’t really sell me on liking either of her men. She didn’t seem callous enough to treat either of them as badly as her character does.

    Did you know that Clive Owen played Dan in the original cast of the play in London? Hard to say without having seen both characters, but I suspect he makes a better Larry.

  2. Nah, I never saw the Monash one. That would be creepy. I can imagine Isabelle as Alice, and not because she’s been on stage in underwear before.

    I like Julia Roberts most of the time, and I thought all the characters needed some sort of vulnerability… but it was just Law and her didn’t seem to have anything. There was a lot more spark between her and Larry; and of course, that relationship didn’t need as much. It’s the Dan/Anna relationship that should have passion.

    Clive Owen as Dan? Gosh. No, way way better as Larry I’d think. Suited him to the ground. I don’t think I can imagine many actors playing a part like that and my still liking the character. But I suppose he can probably act like an arty whining pretty-boy if called upon.