(This post was written long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, probably in 2016 but not published until 2018)
Aside from the title, which was way more auspicious than the film delivered, I was sad for Oscar Isaac, an actor that I like, that he was cast in such a one-dimensional role. He has great talent as an actor, and none of it showed in this film. But Star Wars films have never been known as breeding grounds for future Marlon Brandos.
I have seen Oscar Isaac in at least three other movies:
- Inside Llewyn Davis
- A Most Violent Year
- Ex Machina [2018 edit: His subsequent role as Apocalypse in the Avengers series maybe wasn’t a dramatic role, but he was still great, even though I’m lukewarm toward Avenger’s movies. And…well, if you’re an actor, you want to work, so you take the roles you can get.]
and I think I can say that, as an actor, he HAD to leap at the chance to be in at least one Star Wars episode. I mean, he is young enough that he grew up with Star Wars lore as part of his youth.
But I think he was conflicted. After working with the Coen Brothers (!) on Inside Lewyn Davis, and staring in the very innovative Ex Machina, he has to be thinking, as he walked on to the Disney set, “am I sure this is going to further my establishment as an actor?”
Was it a step up, or a step down for him? This has to tell you something about the film. It’s STAR WARS. And Oscar Isaac is questioning whether it will help his career.
Because if you saw his part, you noticed that he played a one-dimensional, totally transparent, flim-flam, comic book, did-this-in eighth-grade-drama-class, character.
"Yes. I played in the highest grossing film in the history of all film worldwide. No, it did not advance my acting career."
Because whoever wrote the script was laboring under the heavy iron grasp of Disney film, the nail-toothed, black-souled, iron-hearted, family-friendly, positive-messaged, giggly, feel-good-of-the-century, because-it-draws-the-masses-with-the-allure-of-traditional-values paradigm.
But I’m biased.
Unacceptable ways of dying:
- after a long, desperate, nauseated, hairless battle with terminal cancer
- by withdrawal of sustenance after being kept alive artificially
- by some silly accident when I am so old and senile I can’t take care of myself, like falling and hitting my head against a porcelain toilet bowl
- by a degenerative neurological disease (or rather, after the horror of perhaps years with such a disease, and then to succumb to some infection.)
- after doctors have made herculean efforts to keep me alive so I can be miserable for another year, and then die
- because of the failure of some pharmaceutical to do its job
- liver failure due to being prescribed so many pharmaceuticals in an attempt to keep me alive
- car accident (conversely, being kept alive by an airbag is an unacceptable way of avoiding death because of the essential absurdity of the entire situation. [Credit to Radiohead’s song Airbag for bringing this to my attention: “…an airbag saved my life”.] Are you kidding? Do you also like to go to inflatable bouncy houses? I’m a grown man here. I’ll drive slower, thank you, or just go ahead and die if I have to drive so stinking fast, rather than suffer the indignity of bouncing off of a balloon in the car. Just ride a bike or a horse like a man.)
- drowning or falling from a high place, because both are too terrifying and give you no time to prepare yourself
- most of the ways people die today
Acceptable ways of dying:
- by a gunshot wound during an armed uprising against a corrupt government, like the Parisian anti-royalist students in Les Misérables
- by being thrown from a horse
- bleeding to death
- freezing in a snowstorm while lost in the woods
- terrorist attack
- firing squad
- pneumonia or infection
- heart attack
- old age
- any way that is natural and relatively quick
(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 are 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 stupefyingly 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. 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.