What Lies Beneath the Lies

We sense obit writer and aspiring novelist Daniel (Jude Law) to be desperate for some connection. It’s not what he says that’s of interest. Law supplies Daniel with mannerism that makes us ponder about what he is thinking. This guy quickly falls in love. When he meets quirky Alice (Natalie Portman), you can almost hear him thinking, “How could a wild girl like her be fond of a boorish guy like me?” And when he poses for Anna the photographer (Julia Roberts), he’s contemplating “How could a beautiful woman like Anna be engrossed by my novel? If she likes the book, she must like me.”

This is how you watch “Closer.” You’re lost if you limit your perspective on the film’s exterior. The fun part lies in the subtext, that hidden “stuff” waiting to be discovered and adding layers of meaning to what’s happening on the surface. While the characters deliver some witty and snappy lines, half the time what comes out of their mouths doesn’t match what they feel inside. When somebody says they’re okay, you can be sure something is up. This is especially true of Julia Roberts’ character. Her Anna might be the least flashy of the four roles, but she’s probably the most burdened because her concealed feelings eat her up inside.

Also in the mix of this messy romance are Natalie Portman and Clive Owen. Both won Golden Globes and earned Oscar nominations due to this film. While her performance in “Garden State” is a tad better, Portman gives a brave performance here. No doubt the bravery involved showing some skin. She bares her soul here too, but I think the stripping is what made her role award-worthy buzz. The surprise to me was Clive Owens. He plays Larry, the dermatologist who meets Anna in the aquarium. He shows some range here because his role is inconsistently written. He doesn’t seem to be the same person from one scene to another. He’s a good guy and then he acts so cruel. He weeps in hopelessness and then becomes an absolute predator. For Owens to make this stretch believable is a testament to his talent.

There’s a scene when Larry meets Alice for the first time. They’re in Anna’s photograph exhibition and a snapshot of Alice’s face is on display. He asks her of what she thinks of the exhibition. “It’s a lie,” Alice replies. “It’s a bunch of sad strangers photographed beautifully, and… all the glittering assholes who appreciate art say it’s beautiful ’cause that’s what they wanna see. But the people in the photos are sad, and alone… But the pictures make the world seem beautiful, so… the exhibition is reassuring which makes it a lie, and everyone loves a big fat lie.”

“Closer” is a film about four sad strangers, photographed beautifully during shameful moments. Unlike the exhibition, it’s far from reassuring but I have no doubt that Alice would call this a “big fat lie” too. It’s a movie that tries to shed some “truth” about relationships, if your definition of “truth” is limited to the brutality of reality. This is what I disliked about the movie. The foursome is in no way depicted accurately. Patrick Marber, the playwright and the screenwriter, keeps these characters “real.” He seemed more concerned of shocking us and used his characters as pawns, after I have understood and believed them as beautifully flawed human beings.