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Mike Nichols Blogathon- Closer

December 22, 2014


It’s easy to take off your clothes and have sex. People do it all the time. But opening up your soul to someone, letting them into your spirit, thoughts, fears, future, hopes, dreams… that is being naked.- Rob Bell.

Spoiler Alert: Some key scenes are discussed in the post, readers please note.

In 1790, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote a two act opera in Italian called Cossi Fan Tute( Thus do they All), which was performed at Vienna. The plot of Mozart’s opera, centres around two couples where the guys accept a bet to prove that their respective fiancées are eternally faithful. In order to carry out, the guys will pretend to be in disguise  and try seducing each other’s lover. And that sets off a series of betrayals, indiscretions, that throw the lives of the 4 characters into complete chaos and a free fall.  There have been latter attempts too at exploring the intricacies in relationships between two couples, Noel Coward’s Private Lives, Harold Pinter’s Betrayal  and  Pierre De Laclos Les Liaisons dangereuses( Dangerous Liasions).  The basic thread is the same, of two couples, where the partners are trying to cheat on each other, with or without their knowledge and the consequences that follow. Mike Nichols 2004 movie Closer, was based on Patrick Marber’s play of the same name, and while it had the same theme, of 2 couples and their partners cheating on each other, the treatment was much more contemporary and much more raw.  The language is more profane, and the story in a way mocks the Internet relationships, which is pretty much a 21st century phenomenon. Mike Nichols had earlier explored the theme of 2 couples on a cross collision course, in his 1966 debut movie, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, where a young couple gets drawn into the stormy married life of a middle aged couple, and finds that their own marital life is under threat now. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, was itself considered too bold, and shocking for it’s times, with the profane dialogue and the sexual implications present at every stage in the story. Closer is about two couples here- an aspiring novelist Dan Woolf( Jude Law) and a young American stripper Alice Ayres( Natalie Portman),  a photographer Anna Cameron( Julia Roberts) and a dermatologist Larry Gray( Clive Owen).

Natalie Portman and Jude Law

In an opening scene, that mocks at most of the staple romantic comedy clichés, Dan meets with Alice, on a busy London street, when the latter has an accident.  Both the actors walking in slow motion, and Damien Rice’s The Blower’s Daughter playing in the background.  It seems a scene straight out of any standard rom com, with Jude Law, looking wistfully at Natalie Portman, in a red wig, looking utterly waifish.  And soon, Portman,looking all dreamy eyed, hit by a bus, falls on the road, Law rushes in to help her up.Portman looks back with a mix of innocence and coquetteishness , and in that sweet tone of hers calls out “Hello Stranger”. One of the best opening scenes ever. The following scene in the hospital, sets up the two characters well, Dan is an aspiring writer, but now consigned to writing obituaries in news papers, what he calls the “Siberia of Journalism”. And Alice tells that she is a stripper, but proves to be quite an alluring character, sweet and innocent, but curious,  with a hint of mischief, under that sweet face.  The opening scenes, hint at a picture of a perfect romance between Dan and Alice, as they walk around London, taking in the sights, cuddle together on bed and kiss. It just seems all so perfect, but it’s sure, there is some trouble lurking around the corner. And it arrives in the form of Anna, an American photographer,  who comes to take a picture of Dan, who now is planning to launch his book, based on Alice’s life. By now Dan is in a full fledged relationship with Alice, but still does not prevent him from flirting with Anna, and they have a passionate kiss together, another well shot scene.  Dan seems to want to have his cake and eat it too, he is attracted towards Anna, but at the same time, does not want to let go of Alice, whom he claims is completely lovable and unleavable.

Extraordinary thing, the internet. Possibility of genuine global communication, the first great democratic medium. -Anna

The Internet, if there was one term to define the 21st century, it would be the “Age of the Net”. Yes the first great democratic medium, that bought knowledge to the common people, and turned relationships upside down. On the Internet, you could be yourself, and you could still not be yourself. The Net was a medium, where you could be what you wanted to be, instead of what you are. You could get into an anonymous chat room, and be a stud, carrying on with 5-6 females at a time, never mind if in real life, you were nowhere close to it. Or like Dan, transform yourself into the opposite gender, and indulge in hot cybersex with the others. Which is what he does with Larry,  a dermatologist, whose instincts and approach towards the opposite sex are pretty much caveman level.  Larry actually believes that  Dan, whom he meets in an anonymous cybersex chat room is actually a female, and when the latter asks him to meet in real, he accepts it. Nor is there any finesse in his approach with Anna, who also comes to the same place,it’s crude, he does not even bother to check with her, if she is the same person with whom he had cybersexed.

It’s a lie. It’s a bunch of sad strangers photographed beautifully, and all the glittering assholes who appreciate art say it’s beautiful ’cause that’s what they want to see. But the people in the photos are sad, and alone, but the pictures make the world seem beautiful. So the exhibition’s reassuring, which makes it a lie, and everyone loves a big fat lie.- Alice

One of Closer’s best scenes, is when the 2 couples are together, at a photo exhibition organized by Anna, on Alice. We have Alice talking to Larry, Anna taking with Dan,  and the camera keeps switching back and forth, capturing the interactions between the two characters.  Dan once again is pursuing Anna, he can’t get it how she has fallen for a dermatologist, as he says “can you get more boring than that”. Larry on the other hand, is quite content in his relationship with Anna, he takes pride in the fact that she is even amused by his nasty habits. Or maybe the fact that it’s the flush of the first 4 months when everything seems hunky dory.  He is deeply in love with Anna, as he puts it “You are a woman”, while Alice is just a girl.  It is this that makes Alice remind him “You seem more like the cat that got the cream. Stop licking yourself.”.

Oh, 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.” And I don’t know when your moment was, but I bet you there was one. I’m gone.- Alice.

Closer is Mike Nichols most dark movie,  next to Who is Afraid of Viriginia Woolf?  I would say. It is brutally honest, cold and cynical, sparing no punches in it’s take on modern day relationships. In a sense it is the anti date movie, that mocks at all those romantic cliches of  eternal love you have been fed with.  Dan is in a relationship with Alice, yet he has no qualms cheating on her, with Anna, who herself is married to Larry.  Yet he can’t seem to give up on Alice, he really does not have a convincing explanation about what made him fall for Anna, when he does not seem to have any issues with her. He wants Anna, at the same he is jealous if Alice finds some one else. He loves Alice, does not want to hurt her, but at the same time he himself claims he is selfish, he feels he would be happier with Anna.  At that very moment, the word “love” seems to be shallow, it just seems a matter of convenience to be used as and when needed. All that talk of eternal love, being there for another just goes straight out of the window, as we see Dan seeing love in an opportunist sense.

Don’t say it. Don’t you fucking say “You’re too good for me.” I am, but don’t say it. You’re making the mistake of your life. You’re leaving me because you believe that you don’t deserve happiness, but you do, Anna.- Larry

For a movie that  explores the issue of partners cheating on their significant others,  Closer does not really have any explicit scenes of nudity or sex.  The sexual tension here though is more from the dialogue and the characters motivations. Take the scene, where Larry confronts Anna, over her cheating on him with Dan.  It is completely dialogue oriented, yet you feel the rawness, the sexual tension, just from the words and the actions. As Larry demands Anna, to let her know what happened between her and Dan, you feel that sense of unease, the tension somewhere in the air.  Larry is the other end of what Dan is, more brusque, more rough and yes quite possesive of Anna too. The very thought of Anna sleeping around with Dan, gets Larry all heated up, yet he still wants to know the graphic details of the sex they had. As he puts it to Anna “I am a fucking caveman”.

Closer is not a movie you would go out on a date with, it’s too honest a look at what we call love and relationships. It is like watching your own relationship in a mirror, with all that facade of true love, stripped away.  What you get to see from Mike Nichols is a brutally honest, no holds barred portrait, and that is not a pretty picture to look at. There were many who hated Closer, as they felt it was just too cold and cynical. But that was what the movie was intended to be, to shock and awe,albeit in a more subtle manner. You see both the relationships, hurtling down a path of no return, and that makes you examine your own.  When you say “I love you”, do you really mean it, or is it just an opportunist turn of phrase you are using to satisfy your lust. You hate Closer, because you know like Dan or Anna, you have used love for your own opportunistic ends. You hate Closer, because you know like Larry under all that educated, refined exterior, you are still a caveman. You hate Closer, because you find that some one like Anna, for all her waif like exterior, is actually the most sensible and level headed of the lot. Closer puts the mirror straight in your face, makes you have a re look at your own relationships, insecurities, and how shallow the concept of love is.

The movie is also helped by some splendid performances.  Jude Law is first rate as usual, as Dan, who uses love for his own selfish ends. Not too big a fan of  Julia Roberts, but she was pretty good as the cold and calculating Anna. Clive Owen, exudes the natural caveman like appeal and raw passion of Larry quite well, especially in the scene where he confronts Ms.Roberts. And Natalie Portman, packs in the right mix of innocence, coquettishness, impishness, with a lingering sexuality, in the right measure as Alice.

One Comment
  1. Americans are pretty hypocritical about sex and relationships in general. Especially in the myth that you have to be in love with someone to have sex with them. And I think that’s the point of CLOSER: be honest about what you want or even more importantly, what you don’t want in a relationship and don’t lie to yourself.

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