Closer – an (attempt at) analysis

5 Mar

Mike Nichols’s „Closer” has been on the list of my favorite movies for some time right now. Only recently however, did I find a paper I wrote about the picture during my university years. The paper’s aim was to analyze particular aspects of the movie and although I am well aware of the numerous interpretations being there somewhere on the net, I decided to share my humble flawed one 😉 I chose some of the key points I found least emberrassing and here they are presented below:

The title.

There is a certain type of perversity in the title of the film itself. Although it speaks ”closer”, there is hardly any intimacy between the characters. The word ”stranger” is being repeated a couple of times throughout the movie. For example, Alice’s first words to Dan are: ”Hello, stranger”, Anna photographs strangers, Dan asks her ”am I a stranger?”. Finally, at their first „meeting”, during their cybersex with Larry, Dan, pretending to be Anna, writes (s)he fantasizes about strangers. The word emphasizes that in fact there is no closeness between people in the movie, everybody is a stranger to everyone. The film pictures adult people who desperately seek love and intimacy in their lives but in fact are unable to find it, tempted by desire and easy sex, confusing love with fascination, betraying and lying to each other, they end up miserable and dissatisfied.


The film is set in London. Events taking place outside the city, like Larry’s symposium in New York or Alice and Dan’s vacation in the countryside are never shown. Scenes take place both outdoors and indoors, including private places like Dan and Alice’s apartment, Anna and Larry’s house and public spaces like the Aquarium, the art gallery, the public bus, the hospital, Larry’s office, the hotel, the opera, the strip club, the restaurant, or…the net. All of the places are modern, full of anonymity of a big city. The anonymity is taken to its extreme in the scene where Dan and Larry have a conversation on the net where Dan impersonates Anna and have virtual sex with Larry. It also heightens the ever-permeating impression of the distance between the people in the movie.
What „Closer” does away with is the security of the private space. What is worth mentioning is the fact that Alice and Larry get to know about their lovers’ affairs nowhere else than at their homes at night. The fact is relevant because one’s home is a place associated with safety, warmth, security – here the sanctity of the private place is violated. Not only are Alice and Larry faced with the hurtful reality when they expected to be safe, but their partners kept cheating on them at their homes as well. The time of the day is also not without significance. Anna and Dan confess in the middle of the night. Alice is woken up from her sleep she most likely fell into while she was waiting for Dan to come back home, she is dressed in her pyjamas, wearing no make-up with a completely bare face which only heightens her defencelessness. Larry returns tired from a business trip to be greeted by his wife at home, yet what he finds at home is not a warm greeting but the truth hard to bear.

The film depicts four different types of personalities. Alice, a young woman with a turbulent past, seeking for a clean start in London, taking on a new name. Despite her profession, Alice seems to be the most innocent one in the film. Yet, she tries to built her whole new life in London on a lie (her true name is Jane Jones, Alice Ayres is the name of a woman who died saving kids from a burning building). She needs men to obsess over her, when Dan breaks up with her she says ”I’m the one who leaves!” just as she claims during her and Larry’s conversation in the strip club „no one left me”.
Dan is an unachieved writer who works in the „Siberia of journalism” writing obituaries. He is a type of a romantic artist who seeks new love to make his heart tremble, he is sensitive (cries in front of Larry), gentle and caring. Yet his feelings are transitory. As a real romantic, he believes in love at first sight and just as the slogan used in the trailer of the film says „if you believe in love at first sight you never stop looking”, Dan never stops to look. At the beginning of the movie, he dumps his current girlfriend for Alice and later during the course of the story he meets Anna and immediately falls in love with her.
Larry is the exact opposite of Dan, he is like an alpha male: strong, competitive, „caveman” as he calls himself. He approaches Anna at the Aquarium because he thinks she is the person who wanted to meet with him for casual sex. He compares human heart to a fist. When Anna confesses she had an affair with Dan, Larry wants to know the details of their sex life. He is also the person who uses the most vulgar language out of all four characters.
Anna can be treated as the opposition for Alice. She is a mature, successful woman, contradictory to Alice who has hardly anything. It is emphasized mostly when Anna asks Alice if her working in the café is a „temporary thing” and when Alice asks Dan for the reasons of his leaving her: „Is it because she’s (Anna) successful?”.
Relations between characters are both complex and complicated. Each of the characters affects strongly the life of the other. Dan is in love in Alice and then with Anna, Alice loves Dan but seduces Larry from their first meeting, Larry loves Anna but desires Alice, etc. Even pairs Anna/Alice and Larry/Dan who are not romantically involved with each other and meet to talk only once (if we exclude the net conversation) influence each other’s lives strongly. Anna is the reason why Dan leaves Alice, Dan is the reason why Anna leaves Larry, later…Larry is the reason for Dan and Anna’s break up when he manipulates her to have sex with him and confess it before Dan. Finally Larry is also the one who encourages Dan to get back with Alice and who indirectly causes Alice’s love for Dan to stop.

Although the acting is a vital component of every film, in „Closer” it is essential. The whole movie is founded on the acting skills of four leading actors. „Closer” is hardly an action-packed film, the viewer will not find in it special effects, suspense, car pursuits, crime or mystery, in fact „Closer” has no action at all in a common understanding of the word. The film is built around dialogues lead by the characters, each scene is basically a dialogue. Because of this, the significance of acting is taken into a completely higher level than in the case of most films nowadays. Being a brilliant film as it is, even with the same screenplay and directing, „Closer” could easily be an artistic disaster if the actors failed to deliver their parts. But they do not. The acting is very expressive, in fact at times even exaggerated – but not over – because of its theatricality. Every emotion experienced by a character finds its reflection in the portrayal created by the actor, especially in case of Natalie Portman whose face seems to be able of expressing any feeling from genuine sadness to naughty cheekiness in the course of one shot.

General impression.

„At last, a love story for adults” advertises the promotional poster of the film. However, the definition is as much accurate as misleading. People expecting a love story in its traditional sense may feel disappointed or even outraged. Despite the cast that can likely make a viewer expect a romantic history with a tragic twist towards its end at its saddest, the movie treats relationships in a rather raw kind of way and features explicit descriptions of sex acts and language that can be considered vulgar by those more sensitive. Revealing the falsity and transience of human relations in modern world, an anti-love story is an equally suitable name for „Closer”.
After all, Closer is a very depressing portrayal of relationships between humans. Even though all of the characters seek happiness through love none of them succeeds. Dan ends up alone, Anna is back with Larry but none of them seem happy, they are just another marriage bored with each other, Larry sleeping in the marital bed, Anna at the other end of it, the longing in her eyes suggesting she is not enjoying the here and now. Alice leaves England and goes back to America. The last scene in the film is delusively similar to the one opening it. Alice is walking alone down the crowded street, ”Blower’s Daughter” accompanying her. Obviously, she attracts men’s attention just like she attracted Dan’s, yet she remains indifferent to all the stares following her. Disillusioned. The viewer remembers Larry’s words ”everything is a version of something else”. The very same words of the song ”no love, no glory, no hero in her skies” develop a completely new meaning. This time, there is no anticipation of a hero. The end, contrary to the beginning, does not leave much hope for anyone. This time the song is played to its end and the viewer gets to hear its final words: ”I can’t take my mind of you… ’til I find somebody new…”



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