Closer is less a romantic triangle than four train wrecks looking for an intersection.
Based on the play by Patrick Marber, the film is a punishing portrayal of relationships on the skids. If you thought films like Dangerous Liaisons and In the Company of Men were pushing the envelope on how sick and manipulative the contest between the sexes can get, you ain’t seen nothing. Closer is perhaps the best justification for celibacy ever captured on film, a near-perfect shot at contemporary love.
Dan (Jude Law) and Alice (Natalie Portman) meet one day while Dan is on his way to work. Their eyes are drawn toward one another and they make their way through the crowded London streets. When Alice steps off the sidewalk and into a moving taxicab, Dan rushes forward to help her, and the two connect in the emergency room.
Their relationship is sweet and tender, the sort of storybook romance we were taught to believe in as children. The sort of romance we still struggle to believe in today as grown adults who should know better.
Months later Dan has written a book and is in town getting his photo taken for the jacket. The photographer, Anna (Julia Roberts), has recently been divorced, and Dan feels attracted to her. They fumble through an awkward kiss just as Alice buzzes at the door, cutting the action short.
Dan stalks Anna, but she refuses to give into his advances, and one night he plays a practical joke on her by setting up a date with a stranger in an Internet chat room. He pretends to be Anna as he seduces Larry (Clive Owen), but the plan backfires when Larry and Anna actually connect.
These people trade in their lovers like used cars after they’re broken-in and beaten into a million pieces. It’s as though they need to inflict hurt on others after having squeezed as much as possible out of their current lovers. Drained of anything good, these relationships suddenly burst into flame and disappear with a pathetic sort of drama.
The closer we get to these people the more we understand that sex isn’t a sign of love, but rather an act of diversion intended to make them forget how loathsome they find one another. So much burden is placed on the female orgasm as some telltale sign of authenticity that it actually feels good when the girls says how little it means to them.
Larry is a dermatologist, interested in the surface of things while Dan writes obituaries for the city paper and is a lost romantic. Larry demands the truth while Dan cannot live without adoration. Dan drills the women about love while Larry confronts them about the truth about sex. Both are trying to get to foundation of these females, the real and true thing that can never turn bad. Although Dan is a romantic and Larry is a hedonist, both locate this truth at the orgasm.
Closer’s language is harsh and brutal, and sometimes so shocking that it feels like a cold punch. When Larry interrogates Anna about sex with Dan, she responds by spitting out, “He tasted like you, only sweeter” and you can almost hear something break. Deception is brutal, but the truth can also hurt, especially when it comes packaged in sharp, bitter words.
The dialog is witty, but almost too sophisticated. At times the film degenerates into the faux depth of perfume commercials and Victoria Secret models, where every superficial gesture underlies some deeper, more personal fault line. It’s difficult to imagine these characters ordering a pizza and beer or watching reruns like the rest of us slobs. I don’t think the average person has this much capacity for cruelty.
Closer is about these strangers in a crowd; destined to meet, fated to break up, doomed to wander from body to body looking for truth. It’s about these beautiful people telling ugly lies. But mostly this is a film of self-deception, heartbreak and longing.
Alice critiques Anna’s work after an opening by saying that the exhibit is a collection of sad strangers photographed beautifully, the act of an emotional voyeur, and this is true of the film itself. I don’t think there can be must dispute that Closer is a work of art, but this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s pretty.
It’s ironic that the initial reaction many will have to Closer is to request more space, please. No, go back: Stop sharing so much or at least keep some of it to yourselves.
The love scenes in Closer happen in the dark, off screen, but breakups take place in broad daylight with all the lights on. The manner in which the film cuts up time – conveying the feeling of the play it is based on – heightens the feeling that the film is more concerned with painful separations that joyous reconciliations.
In the end, Closer isn’t about love or even sex. It is about the other side intimacy, the dark and troubling place where bodies cannot be trusted to keep our secrets and couples are forever spinning away from one another.


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