(written 6/2017) There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who have seen enough pornography that they can watch Closer without getting squeamish, and those who have not and cannot. I am not joking. There is seriously, literally these two categories. Those from the second category would see Closer as if they were bombarded by porn and they could not appreciate the film as an article of contemporary film art because they are blinded and offended by the language initially, but later by the blunt frank nudity, pole dancing, stripping, and raging sexual encounters (mercifully off screen but described vividly).
This is a common quandary I find myself in: unable to recommend a movie to friends because I know that they are not hardened, soul-sickened, destroyed in their sensitivities as I am and therefore if I were to set a certain film before them, they would only undergo the destruction of the virtue of their innocence. They would not be able to view the film in any other mode. Their response would be grief, shock, offense. These responses I guess I went through at some point long ago. They are so far behind me that I am able to watch films like Closer somewhat bored with the sexuality and appreciate the drama and poignancy of the story.
By the way, it is Clossser? or Clozer? Close as in ‘near’ or close as in ‘closing up shop’? Perhaps the ambiguity of the title is part of the point.
Anyway, it was a sternum-blow of a movie, adapted from a stage play, and it explored a 4-way love quadrangle riddled with wild attraction, betrayal, cowardice, and guilty brutal abandonment of objects of a once-passionate love affair/marriage. How can a heart be so cold, we ask ourselves? Who could so brazenly, so guiltily, turn against a lover who was so committed, so dependent on them? Are we just plumbing the depths here? Seeing how heartless people can be? Are we portraying extremes of love and betrayal? Is this some Greek tragedy? Are we supposed to respond with pity and fear, like Oedipus or Antigone? Are the gods also gasping in horror?
Another point. I think the story is severely colored by the fact that the four main players are four of the most beautiful people in the world. Now, how does this change the equation? As a viewer, my heartstrings are pulled even harder than usual. For the love of all constancy, Natalie Portman is stupifiingly beautiful, as is and has been for 20 years, Julia Roberts. And Jude Law? Clive Owen? These are two fine, beautiful men beyond all reason. And these four are first loving one, then another? What is an average-looking, middle class, fly-over guy to think?
So this film, while it purports to show us the destructive power of betrayed love, actually shows us nothing that we can personally deal with, can relate to, because we are constantly distracted and dazzled (at least, I am) by the uncommonly beautiful, angelic faces acting out the drama before us. These people are not like us, we say. They don’t look like me, their capacity for destruction of their beloved is foreign to me, their overweening animal appetites are not like mine, their heartlessness, their sympathies, their incredulity is totally Hollywood and unlike any normal person’s experience. And the trajectory of the plot does not leave us with any hope.
This is one of those artistic endeavors that, however artful, has nothing for us to take home with us. It is in the category of art for art’s sake, which I more and more have come to reject as a premise for art. Portrayal of extremes for the sake of an extreme experience. For a thrill. Not to show us something real, not to exhort viewers to anything like fidelity, sympathy, self-restraint, or dignity. Not even to say something altogether true about human brokenness.
“One last BANG for old time’s sake,” the character says. Seriously? Yup, and only then will he sign the divorce papers. Who does that? Revenge sex. Combative, strip club banter. Let me pour you a drink honey, before I reveal that I had sex with your rival 30 minutes before you walked in the door. What do we do with this?
Nothing. I’m not particularly incisive about these things, but I’ve seen the film two times now, and I do not see anything to take away except the emotionally brutal extremes of four stunningly beautiful people falling in love and then having affairs that destroy the beautiful relationship they had and the person they appeared to have found that special thing with.
And like the animal that I frequently am, and endeavor to rise above someday, I enjoyed the film for its tantalizing parts, and for the actors whom I have developed that theater-seat sense of connection to. But in my mind, not my heart, the knowledge is there that this story is void of virtue, is a mere relic of 2004 that will be forgotten by time. Because there was nothing enduring, no heroism, no lasting, faithful love outside the context of betrayal, no self-denial, nothing eternal.