Closer (2004)

Dan: You act as if the heart were something simple. A diagram…

Larry: Have you ever seen a human heart? It looks like a fist wrapped in blood!

“Closer” is one of the most brilliantly-written films I’ve seen in a long time. It’s a film where the characters’ lives revolve around using sex to hurt each other, but aside from a rather humorous “conversation”… (I won’t spoil it) there isn’t a sex scene to be found in the film.

With perhaps the exception of Julia Roberts, the ensemble was cast very well. Here, next to seasoned character actors, the superstar’s acting comes off very hamfisted.

Each character has different ways of getting off. Dan (Jude Law) is self- deprecating, cynical and passive-agressive, “What’s so great about the truth? Try lying for a change. It’s the currency of the world.”

Anna (Roberts) is passively morose, When she says, “Don’t stop loving me. I can see it draining out of you. It meant nothing. If you love me, you’ll forgive me,” you feel either that Roberts’ heart is simply not in it, or that the Roberts’ idea of indifference is that it is entirely devoid of emotion. Indifference is an emotion, and when people feel it toward other people, they can’t help but give the impression that they are still human beings somewhere underneath. Here, there’s no human in her being.

Alice (Natalie Portman) is… well, we can never really be sure (nor, I think, can she), “Lying is the best thing a girl can do without taking her clothes off. But it’s more fun if you do.”

Dan tells her she is “disarming”. More importantly, and perhaps ominously, he tells her “disarming” is only a euphemism.

Larry (Clive Owen) is as gasoline poured on a fire. His tone is casual yet brutal, delivered with force, but he sounds indifferent to those into whom he leans, “Thank you, thank you for honesty. Now fuck off and die, you miserable old slag!”

Based on a four-person ensemble stage play, the four prinicipals rarely, if ever, interact with anyone else. Many films that rely on dialogue for exposition fail to engage, usually because the dialogue is poorly written. Bad dialogue tends to describe everything that is going on (as if the director has no clue how to tell it through action or visual metaphor). Well-written dialogue often exists perpendicular to the action, or, at least, as in this film, describes what the characters are thinking—not what they are doing.

This film deftly avoids the “all-in-one” plot and, instead, centers on a single element: the way in which Dan, Anna, Larry and Alice each use language to hurt each other. I say language instead of action, because we have none of the tired cliches of so-and-so catching their wife/girlfriend in bed with their best friend, etc. Life isn’t usually like that.

People often use language like a sword to cut others down and, in the process, they feel exhilarated.

The greatest power of this film is the way in which it utilizes implied action. Larry, questioning Anna, reconstructs a scene we never see—having sex on the couch with Dan. When Anna seems more depressed than guilty or excited about it, Larry seems, for a moment, disappointed that there aren’t more lurid details to satisfy his voyeuristic fascination.

The film is about masochistic voyeurism and the shallow nature of how these characters aren’t really in love with anything but their own depression.

Closer • Directed by Mike Nichols • Running Time: 1 hour 44 minutes • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 • MPAA Rating: R for sequences of graphic sexual dialogue, nudity/sexuality and language. • Released by Columbia Pictures • DVD distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment