Monday, February 07, 2005

5. Closer

“And so it is
Just like you said it would be
Life goes easy on me
Most of the time
And so it is
The shorter story
No love, no glory
No hero in her sky”

- Irish folk singer Damien Rice

The movie Closer opens and closes with Damien Rice’s wistful and heartfelt song of loss and yearning The Blower’s Daughter, his wounded and cracking voice hauntingly complementing the first moments of the film where we are introduced to Natalie Portman’s character as she walks in a sea of grey and blue, her hair red and brilliant like autumn leaves. She is at once an enigma, floating obliviously through a crowd of the ordinary. In her, we see a vision of freedom that we all yearn but are sometimes afraid to seek. The closing scene mirrors the opening, as we see her again walking amongst an endless mass, the luminous amidst the commonplace, her hair is no longer red but startling black, but she is that same liberated person. We’ve come to the end, but her character is unchanged, she has come full-circle, and she is back where she began, in fact, you can alternate the beginning and ending and it wouldn't make a difference. In my mind, it is the most perfect beginning and ending committed to film.

It’s apt that the tagline for the movie is “If you believe in love at first sight, you never stop looking”. For she still seeks, as will some of us out there. She is hopeful, and she represents that idealistic and unending search for true love eternal. And like the characters in the film, there is a little of them that we can see in us; the restless romantic in Jude Law’s Dan, the fiendish but brutally honest Larry (played brilliantly by King Arthur’s Clive Owen, who also incidentally played Dan in Patrick Marber’s original play), the child-like yet sensual Alice (Natalie Portman in her best performance since Leon) and the haunted Anna (a very good Julia Roberts). The film visits these four characters at different points in their lives, offering a frank if brutal look into the nature of relationships, from the magical beginnings to it’s bitter ends, and in some cases, reconciliation.

There are no protagonists or antagonists in the film. Each of the characters has their redeeming qualities and flaws, just like how normal people do in real life. Larry at first seems the most likely to be pointed out as the antagonist of the tale. He is crude and ruthless. He has no qualms in humiliating the woman he loves and goes through deliciously wicked lengths to annihilate Jude Law’s character. Yet, he is the most truthful amongst the four in the sense that he never tells a lie. In fact, he is the only one who doesn’t lie in any of the film’s inter-crossing relationships. When he cheats on Anna, he confesses immediately out of guilt and his love for her (Anna only confesses her indiscretion when pushed by him). He pursues Anna for every graphic detail of her betrayal and thanks her (though quite obscenely) for her honesty. His intentions (no matter how cruel) are laid out for everyone to see. He is the opposite of Dan. Dan is a romantic. In the end, you get a feeling that he is doomed to be alone and forever yearning for lost love. Larry is a realist, and as such, knows how things work in the real world. He knows what Anna needs, and understands her more than Dan could possibly do. As such while Dan can only offer her an idealistic dream of love, it is Larry who can actually provide her with what she needs as opposed to what she wants.

In his relentless pursuit to win her back, Larry looks at first pathetic and pitiful. Yet in the end, he is steadfast and his resolve never wilts. He wins her, as you just know he would. Compare that to Dan, Dan wins nothing in the end. He breaks down in his confrontation with Larry. It is then when all cards are finally laid out on the table that Dan finally sees that he never really had a chance. He is a dreamer who believes that everything will work out because of love. But that is never the case, and because it doesn’t he just cannot accept it. He is helpless to do anything but break down. It is he, in the end, who is pathetic and pitiful. He has a final chance to redeem himself with the one person who is perfect for him, Alice. But he ruins it. For it is his nature to do so, he lives in a world where all relationships must be perfect. They never are. He learns this too late in the end. He, along with Anna, are the film’s two big losers.

In Anna’s case, her loss is not as apparent as Dan’s. She after all ends up back with Larry, a man who clearly loves her. It is apparent that he loves her more than she loves him. She feels safe and secure with him because of this. With Dan, she felt love, true love. Though the film never showed the reason why she left Dan to be with Larry again, one might speculate that Dan’s distrust of her after she had admitted to sleeping with Larry one final time (to win her freedom from him) would’ve caused a massive strain in their blossoming relationship. She knew that Dan’s love for her could never be same again and felt insecure because of it. So rather than risk being hurt, she returns to Larry, Larry who loves her dearly, Larry who would never hurt her. And with the choice that she makes, you feel that her fate is much worse than Dan’s, for she willingly gives up on her true love. She is willing to accept the security and comfort that Larry provides though she clearly does not love him as she loves Dan. She, like some of us, chooses the easy way out, but at what cost? In her final scene, she seemingly looks happy and content, but is it true happiness that she feels? Or has she just comforted herself in thinking that she is? Can anyone be really happy in a relationship? That’s the question the film asks us.

If Larry is the most honest of the characters, than Alice is the most emotionally honest of them all. Her love for Dan is pure and true. She never cheats when she’s with him, unlike the rest, who cheat on each other at some point or another. She is dedicated solely to him, and because of this, she needs Dan more than he needs her. In an ironic sort of way, her feelings for Dan mirror Larry’s feelings for Anna. Both love their partners more than they love them back. Both feel lost and helpless without the other. But the difference is that while Larry is willing to hurt the person he loves and destroy her one true chance of happiness, Alice is not. Instead, when Dan confesses to her his relationship with Anna, she flees out of his life, never to be seen again till he seeks her out. She doesn’t use sex as a vicious tool to wound the person she loves (until the very moment she realises that she doesn’t love him anymore that is). She does lie to Dan about her identity, but you get the feeling it’s only because when she first meets Dan, she is in fact somebody else entirely (when they first meet, she had just arrived in London from New York to escape her previous relationship). Jane is her true name, signifying her past. She only reveals it to Larry when she has again become a stripper (as she was in New York) after Dan leaves her. She can tell Larry her real name because Larry means nothing to her, unlike Dan. Jane as Alice is the one who finds love with Dan. This is again illustrated when Alice plans to take Dan back with her to New York, she would not show her passport to him (and thus, reveal her true name) because she wants to be his Alice, the woman that Dan fell initially in love with and vice versa. When she finally leaves Dan (something foreshadowed earlier when Alice reveals to him that she has never left anyone she still is in love with) and Dan asks her who she is, she answers that she doesn’t know. In fact, it seems that she has no true identity at all. Her life is shaped by love, and she only becomes a complete person when she loves and is loved by somebody in return. Finally, when we see her back in the New York, the ending has become the beginning, she is now somebody else, starting over again, seeking that one love that can make her whole again.

The film’s title is Closer yet by the film’s end, nobody is really closer to one another. Everyone is alone and lost in his or her own way, even Larry (think of it, is he really happy with Anna knowing that she could never really love him as much she did Dan?). Only Alice/Jane seems to have been left unscathed. But the only reason for that is that she is the only one capable of re-inventing herself and leaving the past behind. Her innocence is somehow preserved and she will not be haunted by the past, as Anna and Dan are doomed to be. She is also alone in the end, but hopeful. Will she ever find love? The film doesn't answer this but you can sense that she would do so eventually. Perhaps there are echoes in what we see in each of them that can be reflected to our own lives. Just how much are we willing to compromise to have a lasting relationship? Are we ready to wait for true love for the rest of our lives even though it may never come? And if we're not, can we ever be content in a relationship without it? Is it even in our nature to be content at all? And if not, is there any hope for us to ever be closer?


MER said...

great, great!

oliver said...

Your analysis of the movie is as astounding as the movie itself. My first thought after finishing the movie is as you mentioned brutal. Brutal realism, brutal honesty.

nitz said...

Oliver recommended reading your analysis of 'Closer' after having watched it. Patient i am not. Reading your interpretation of 'closer' only accentuates my enthusiasm for the movie. A truly good read. Thank you.

joe said...

Thanks for feedback, actually what i really loved about the film is that it leaves a lot to the viewer's interpretation (as all good films invariably do). I wrote it as how i saw it, and you guys might see it somewhat differently. Either way, i hope you enjoy the film as much as i did.

juggiz-due said...

good writin dude. neways, wif da uncertainty facin da world today, .. imagine da time tsunami first hit M'sia!... , we gals feel more secured wif guys who lurves us more than we lurve them. reason? well, as your later posting would suggest, if a guy is contented wif his mate, da most he'll act on his genetic habit is a mere harmless flirt wif other gals. ;p

my first time viewin ya blog and i must say it's prettie interesting. cool dude.

joe said...

everyone's different, some are happy with security, some are happy being with someone they're completely and absolutely nuts the end, whatever makes them happy eh...