Monday, January 03, 2005

Closer Directed by Mike Nichols

The accusations that Closer is full of ugly people are right on, and chances are anyone having a problem with this misanthropic also found something to complain about in the antihumanity of '04's best film, Dogville. To those that find the script stagey and unrealistic, I can only say congratulations - if you've never experienced something akin to this in real life, even second hand, you're in luck. Essentially, those are the two gripes concerning Mike Nichols' Closer, and two that I can understand, but disagree with entirely.

A lot of the power found in Closer can be linked to the idea of routine, or repetition. Endgame, Glengarry Glen Ross, and the works of Francis Bacon are just a few examples of the great works of art that have been produced out of the concept of routine. We humans are creatures of habit, cycling away at tasks that, while menial in the large scope, are intensely important to our immediate wellbeing. The four characters in Closer - Dan, Alice, Anna, and Larry (Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, and Clive Owen, respectively) - like normal humans, are also creatures of habit. They use the same pick-up lines over and over, fall in love in the same manner, and revert to habitual pet names and inside jokes. Nichols reinforces this with repetitive music cues (the intro to Cold Water and The Blower's Daughter, both by Damien Rice), an elliptical narrative-arc, and a very clever use of time that jumps months & years at a time with very little change to be found in our habitual lead characters. The rub: tied into that need for routine is the equal, and opposite need for change. The two couples - Dan & Alice and Anna & Larry - get locked into their routine of pet names, inside jokes, and predictable sex. As the saying goes, the hand you hold is the hand that holds you down. Inevitably, a large amount of deception - resulting in two messy separations - occurs. These people are caught in a bitter Catch-22, wherein they need the routine of their other, but cannot keep the equal need for another quelled. This is like that whole blanket thing from I [Heart] Huckabees ("Everything's the same and everything's different") injected with a healthy dose of bile.

As far as the dialogue being stagey - it bites, yes, and bites hard, but by no means is it unrealistic. Dan and Larry's desperate, foolish need to know the truth - no matter the brutality of it - is seated so deeply in the human (or least my) psyche, that, as hard as I'd like to, I cannot deny its reality. As Dan says to Alice, "This will hurt." And he's right, but it does not hurt in a way that allows the viewer to keep the pain at arm's length. The characters are complete people, full of both positive attributes and flaws, and in them we see ourselves. In that respect, the relationship to Bacon and Beckett is apropos - Closer is mimetic in the same way that the works by those artists are. They are made not only to entertain, but also to reflect something back at the viewer that he or she would not have seen, or would not have chosen to see. The lasciviousness of Closer would be a money making gimmick if the sexuality were not used as a bargaining tool for people to get what they want. These characters are shallow, empty, and full of device, but also sympathetically human. This is the reflection that Nichols was looking for - an image of people desiring someone to depend on but unable to remain content with that someone. For them, and for us, sex has turned - it has become a device, or a tool, to manipulate for personal gain. This makes Closer a difficult film to watch, and an even harder one to enjoy, but it also makes Closer a film of great importance.


Anonymous Jo said...

I am trying desperately to remember the name of the band who supplied the music in "Closer" when Dan and Alice are in the strip bar. I used to have this CD and now I can't remember their name!! Do you know?? Please email me if you do!

13 October, 2006 21:47  

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