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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Closer (2004)



Reviews and Comments

Closer can be seen a number of different ways. I see it as a cautionary tale about what happens when people conduct relationships for themselves, rather than out of love. This movie is the story of four characters, two men and two women, who are entirely self-oriented. At least three of them (it's tougher to read the fourth) mistake that selfish feeling of lust and infatuation as love, but love isn't a feeling at all -- it's the continuing act of caring for another person above oneself. It's a concept alien to these four characters, and as they act on their impulses and obsessions to fulfill their own needs, they destroy the lives of everyone around them. This is not a happy story, but it never ceases to be compelling drama, unusually well written and acted.

I find it interesting that reviews of this film often order the four characters by how "bad" they are. Certainly some seem more guilty than others, but ranking them misses the point. Judging them only satisfies our own sense of moral superiority and misses the lesson, which, even if we truly aren't as recklessly selfish as these characters, is still an important one to understand. Lacking mutual selfless love, a relationship is doomed. It doesn't matter if you're more or less of a creep than the next guy.

What makes at least some of these characters stand out, though, is that it's debatable how much they actually feel and how much they're simply engaging in behavior. When they're infatuated, or slighted, cheating or cheated upon, are the actions they take in response truly heartfelt, or rote reenactments of instinctive behavior? Sometimes, I think. Not all the time -- tragically, the moments they seem genuine, they're with people who are not.

Either way, this movie is a fascinating study of self-destructive human behavior that rings uncomfortably true. In three separate scenes, a character learns of infidelity and presses for details to seek a cathartic release from the pain. Invariably, the facts only make things worse. It goes to show how, with healthy relationship, it only takes one lapse of selfishness on the part of one person to send both into a self-destructive spiral.

Remember that fourth character I spoke of earlier? She is played by Natalie Portman. The other three are played by Jude Law, Julia Roberts, and Clive Owen. They're cut from more recognizable cloth, but what are we to make of Portman's character? At first, she seems the most guiltless of the four, but by the end, she becomes the film's most intriguing morsel of food for thought. What's her game?