What does being in love mean? When is being in love a reason to enter into a relationship or even a marriage? Is it enough to sustain a relationship? Is it the only consideration in a relationship?
Based on Patrick Marber’s award winning play, Closer is the story of two men and two women, how they met, how they loved and the paths they eventually decided was best for them. It is a love story but not in the usual boy meets girl, falls in love, and they live happily ever after tradition. Here is an honest and provocative look into modern man-woman relationships and the kaleidoscope of emotions that forms part of that elusive thing we call love. By the end of the film, one starts wondering if one really knows anything about love and relationships.
The first scene is a London street during the morning rush hour. Natalie Portman and Jude Law are walking from opposite sides of the street. Portman gets hit by a vehicle and Law rushes her to the hospital. They spend a little more time together after Portman gets bandaged up. She tells him that her name is Alice and he introduces himself as Dan, a guy who makes a living by writing obituaries. She tells him that she is a stripper from New York, in London to run away from a relationship gone sour.
The next scene shows Dan being photographed by Anna (Julia Roberts) for the cover of a book that he wrote–a story about Alice’s life. The attraction between Dan and Anna is spontaneous but, when pressed, Dan admits that he is living with Alice. Alice arrives to pick up Dan and meets Anna. She asks to use the bathroom. Thinking that Alice is out of earshot, Dan and Anna articulate their attraction. Alice comes out of the bathroom and asks if Anna could photograph her. She sends Dan away saying she wanted the session to be just between photographer and subject. Dan steps out and Alice confronts Anna. One look, she says, and she knew there was something between her and Dan.
The next scene shows Dan and Larry (Clive Owen), a dermatologist, chatting on the internet. Dan pretends to be a woman and sets a real date with Larry at the aquarium. But Dan does not show up. Larry instead meets Anna at the aquarium.
The scene shifts and Anna is having a photo exhibit. Dan and Alice attend both being subjects in Anna’s photos. Anna is now having a relationship with Larry. But seeing Dan face to face rekindles old feelings.
The scene changes once more and Dan confesses to Alice that he is in love with Anna. She leaves him.
Larry comes home to Anna, now his wife, who is morose because she is about to walk out on him. She tells him that she and Dan have been seeing each other since the night of the exhibit and have continued to do so even after their marriage. They separate amid a lot of guilt and anger.
Dan and Anna openly resume their relationship. Quite by accident, Larry finds Alice working as a stripper in a London club.
Anna meets with Larry to have him sign the divorce papers but Larry sets a condition. He wants Anna to be his whore one last time and then he would sign. Desperate, Anna agrees. When Dan finds out, he bursts into anger. It was not love, Anna explains, if Dan had done the same with Alice one last time, she will understand and forgive him.
Dan goes to Larry’s clinic and begs to have Anna back. He tells him that Anna had gone back to him not out of love but out of guilt. They exchange many hurtful words but Dan finally accepts his loss. Victorious, Larryadvises him to go back to Alice and gives him the name and address of the club where he had found her. As a parting shot, he also tells Dan that he had slept with Alice.
Dan and Alice get back together. Dan insists on finding out from Alice whether she had slept with Larry. For Alice, it is irrelevant. Dan’s insistence makes her realize the kind of man he truly is. She tells him she is through with him and tells him to leave.
Alice goes back to New York. A shot of her passport shows her name as Jane Smith.
Dan, in London, goes back to a crypt where he and Alice strolled the day they met. He reads the names on the stones and sees her name–Alice Ayres.
The story, spanning years, is simple and straightforward. But the characterization combined with the dialogue gives the story so much depth.
While many women will feel secure in a marriage with a successful man like Larry the dermatologist, Anna, a successful professional photographer, wanted more in a relationship. Not that Larry did not love her. For he did with all his heart, as the cliche goes. But it was not enough for Anna. She could not match his love with her own because it was Dan that she yearned for. When she returned to Larry later on, it was not because she had learned to love him or that she had come to love Dan less. Her decision had nothing to do with love. It was a combination of guilt and common sense. Dan did not turn out to be the ideal half in a relationship.
All the love that Larry felt for Anna did not stop him from hurting her in every way he could after she had hurt him with the admission that she loved Dan and not him. He insulted her, he humiliated her and yet, in the end, she went back to him of her own free will.
Alice, who kept her real identity a secret over the years was, ironically, the only genuinely honest character in the story. Innocent and uncomplicated, it was she who loved without reservations and without any trace of selfishness. The even bigger irony is that, in the end, it is she who ends up the wiser and the only one without a broken heart.
The story graphically illustrates why traditional marriage vows, if literally followed, stunt the growth of both persons in a relationship. Each person in the story portrays a human character that is a part of each of us. They tell us to view our relationships from various perspectives to determine whether we are genuinely happy or merely deluding ourselves into believing that we are indeed happy.
I suppose it goes without saying that I consider Closer to be an exceptionally good film.