- YEAR: 2004
- DIRECTOR: Mike Nichols
- KEY ACTORS: Natalie Portman, Clive Owen, Jude Law, Julia Roberts
- CERTIFICATE: 15
- IMDB SCORE: 7.2
- ROTTEN TOMATO SCORE: 68%
SEX SCORE: 4/5
✔️ Yes. The cast are fuckable. All of them. Every single character. They’re awful but I would fuck them all without hesitation!
✔️And it definitely inspired fantasies – fantasies of love at first sight, fantasies of being wanted so intensely and destructively
✔️ Closer passes the Bechdel Test when Alice and Anna talk about photography at the beginning of the film.
✔️ I also think it’s rewatchable. It’s a stunning, enthralling and breathtaking film!
❌ But is it sex positive? Sadly, I can’t give Closer the mark. Sex is used as a weapon too many times…
As always, this contains spoilers so watch the film before you read on…
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I first saw Closer in the cinema in 2004. I was 19 and in my first year of university, living away from home for the first time, and my sisters who were then 14 and 16 had come to stay. It wasn’t my intention to expose my younger sisters to so much deviance but I managed to pretty much cover all the bases during their various trips to stay in that first year – a fancy dress party in my student halls, complete with pot-smoking cowboys, late night dancing at a rave in the union, and Closer, a film so filthy that I am astounded it only had a 15 certificate and once again proves that the rating system is useless!
Closer also made me realise, even at 19, that my barometer for what was sexually acceptable was perhaps more liberal than that of most people because, as well as my younger sisters, I saw this movie with a flat mate and her boyfriend who were very religious and didn’t believe in sex before marriage. I cannot for the life of me remember why I thought this was a good idea! If I remember correctly, her boyfriend didn’t even believe in wanking (I know, it’s astonishing!) and while I was happily watching this film, idly wondering if perhaps it was too much for my baby sister but deciding that it was probably OK, they were struggling. Really struggling. And, when Larry goes to see Alice in the strip club – location of the infamous ‘What does your cunt taste like?’ ‘Heaven!’ exchange – they had had enough. They got up and left. To this day, I still don’t know if they left as they were disgusted at what was on screen or if it was simply too much for a couple of horny Christians who weren’t even allowed to masturbate to cope with!
Because Closer is a fucking sexy movie about sex and love filled with fucking beautiful people. It tells the story of Alice (Portman), an American girl who is distracted by a nearby beautiful stranger, Dan (Law), and steps into the path of a taxi. Dan takes her to hospital and they instantly fall in love, with Dan subsequently writing a book about their sex and relationship. He has his author headshots for the book taken by Anna (Roberts), who he also falls in love with immediately. Bored at home, Dan catfishes Larry (Owen) into thinking he is Anna and arranges to meet him for sex. Larry goes, meets the real Anna and, surprise surprise, they fall immediately in love! Meanwhile, Anna and Dan have an affair that destroys her marriage with Larry and breaks up his relationship with Alice. Retreating to a strip club, Larry finds Alice working as a stripper and buys a private dance, using this fact to taunt Dan later when they meet. Both couples get back together but the movie ends with Dan and Alice finally breaking up for good and Dan discovering that Alice had been lying to him for their entire relationship as her name isn’t Alice at all.
And I love this movie. A lot of reviews disagreed with me, one claiming that it was ‘not merely bad. It’s flamboyantly bad, bad in a way that can’t help but be fascinating.’ But I think it’s perfect. It’s funny and enthralling and just so hot. All of the characters are awful people – all of them – and they act in ways that seem inherently designed to hurt the people that they claim to love, but I love it. Closer is almost a cautionary tale against love at first sight, and it’s one that I never forgot. One of the movie’s taglines tells us that ‘if you believe in love at first sight, you never stop looking,’ and 19 year old me thought this was incredibly profound. It genuinely put me off the possibility of love at first sight!
God, this movie is saturated with nostalgia for being 19! Even before the first shot of the movie, Damien Rice’s early noughties classic, ‘The Blower’s Daughter,’ starts playing over the Columbia Pictures logo and I am gone. I listened to that song so often during that period of my life, my heart aching at the chorus as I remembered gazing across at my unrequited love and wishing with all my soul that I could be as sexy and desirous as Natalie Portman and then maybe I would have the confidence to tell him that I loved him. (Although in looking up the lyrics, I realised that I have been singing the wrong words for nearly 20 years and wildly misunderstood the end of the song! It’s not ‘did I say that I love you?’ as I thought, encouraging me to speak up, but rather ‘did I say that I loathe you?’ and how he wants to leave it all behind. Mind. Blown.)
Looking back, I’ve realised that my nostalgia goes beyond the music. So much of what I thought women needed to do to be sexy is based on Natalie Portman’s Alice. From simple fashion choices – short hair and long earrings, curly hair and bohemian dangling earrings, mini skirts and ankle boots, boxers and t-shirts – to how she holds her mouth, I tried so hard to emulate her look. I became obsessed with her mouth and how she never closes it when she’s trying to be sexy, holding her lips and teeth apart in a confident and almost sardonic smile with a glimpse of her tongue between. I watched Larry’s eyes glance down to her mouth when they were talking over and over again, and I consciously made the decision to hold my mouth that way when trying to look sexy. Obviously, it didn’t work and I had to find my own way to be sexy but, wow, I wanted to be her! Her sexiness is so raw and blatant, even before she strips, and I was so envious.
Interestingly, watching now at 35, I found myself noting down fashion tips from Julia Roberts’s wardrobe as Anna instead – thick white shirt with a hint of a dark bra below, a white long sleeved top under a black vest, wide legged trousers with a statement belt (*cough* noughties *cough*) – and I understood how fucking sexy she is too. I always knew she was beautiful but I hadn’t got how sexy she was. And I’m pretty certain that that’s because her sexiness is more grown up, more assured, more real, and was beyond my reach when I was only 19. Alice is sexy because she’s cute and beautiful, described by Larry at one point as having the ‘moronic beauty of youth,’ but Anna is sexy simply because she knows what she’s worth and it’s very rare to know that when we’re young. She’s good at her job, she knows what she wants, and she is going to fucking get it. On similar lines, my husband, EA, now felt that the conversation between Anna and Dan as she takes his photo is the sexiest scene in the movie, which was not his opinion 10 years ago! Anna is in control, toying with him, teasing him, and she completely has him in the palm of her hand. Now I don’t want Alice’s raw sexuality; I want to be as certain as Anna.
But despite the fundamental change in my opinions of Alice and Anna, I feel exactly the same way about the men as I did in 2004 – simply, Larry is hot, Dan is not. I’ve never had much of a thing for Jude Law as, to me, there’s something smug about him that I can’t get around, and it’s likely that this movie is the source of that dislike! Dan’s sexiness seems more external, more knowing. He’s neat and measured, and he’s cruel. The catfishing is a deliberate attempt to manipulate and his treatment of Alice isn’t how you should treat someone you love. He’s a fuckboy, going after exactly what he wants even though he knows will hurt people. Larry, on the other hand, is sexy even though (or perhaps because) he’s a thug. He’s rough and passionate and straightforward, just like all the rugby boys that I have had crushes on over the years. He claims to be a ‘fucking caveman’ and it’s true. His appeal is elemental and basic. I‘ve spent a long time trying to decide if I’d want to date Larry as well as just fuck him, and I still haven’t made up my mind. I think his anger and aggression would be too much long term and I may be so attracted to him as he is just the best of a bad bunch!
Because I don’t think it’s an accident that this caveman is the character who is the most honourable. He’s not nearly perfect – he cheats on his wife with a sex worker, he sleeps with both Alice and Anna solely to fuck Dan up – but he is the least duplicitous. His actions and intentions are transparent and his emotions are clearly on show. Even when he manipulates Dan by sleeping with Anna, there’s an obviousness to his play that makes it almost forgivable. He wants revenge and he gets it. As a side note, Clive Owen was Oscar-nominated for this role and won a BAFTA, and it is completely deserved. He is so so powerful and I believe every word and emotion he shares. He ‘throws himself into the role with carnivorous gusto’ and it’s magnificent.
I was also fascinated by Larry and Dan’s relationship to honesty. It’s a big theme within Closer, almost more so than the idea of love at first sight, and is one of the reasons why I don’t really like any of the characters. Sometimes there’s no reason to tell the entire truth as they do so liberally; sometimes it’s kinder to lie about exactly why you don’t want to be with someone and it’s kinder to hold back the details on your infidelity. As Roger Ebert wrote in his review, there’s a difference between ‘confessing you’ve cheated because you feel guilt and seek forgiveness, and confessing merely to cause pain.’ The Atlantic went further, deriding the characters’ ‘ludicrous belief that displaying unremitting cruelty is somehow the same thing as telling the truth.’
But the characters, particularly Dan and Larry, do approach honesty differently – Dan tells the truth even if it isn’t wanted, warning Alice that ‘this will hurt’ but still telling her more than she wants to know, whereas Larry demands the truth from Anna even though she doesn’t want to tell it. She does try to lie to him, she does hold back the details but Larry demands more and more and more until Anna ends up screaming at him that Dan’s jizz tastes ‘like you but sweeter.’ ‘Thank you sincerely for your honesty,’ Larry responds, ‘Now fuck off and die, you fucked up slag.’ He wants to be hurt so that he can push her away, turning his hurt into anger, but it’s his choice to do that and Dan didn’t give Alice that option.
On this viewing, I noticed that the differences in the characters are reflected in their smoking history and, maybe because I’m a respiratory registrar in real life, I loved how smoking was used as a metaphor for the morality of each character’s behaviour. Dan restarts smoking after meeting Alice (did her original lie corrupt him?) and is never able to quit, ending the movie still acting like a twat; Alice is a smoker at the start but decides one day to quit and succeeds, just like how she decides she’s no longer in love; and Larry really, really wants a cigarette but manages to resist the temptation, just as he resists Alice until they are both single and able to fuck without deceit. It’s a blunt metaphor but an effective one.
I didn’t see Closer when it was on stage but I really wish I had, although I don’t know if I agree with the radically different ending to the original play. The cast lists for original production and Broadway shows sound extraordinary – Clive Owen as Dan this time with Ciarán Hinds, Liza Walker and Sally Dexter, and later on Broadway with Rupert Graves, Anna Friel, Natasha Richardson and Ciarán Hinds. *swoon* As is often the case with plays that are moved on to the big screen, there is a sense of the original structure left over. Is it normal that there are so few supporting characters? And I tend to agree with The Atlantic review that the over-the-top drama is perhaps more suited to the stage ‘where emotional fireworks are sometimes the price of reaching people in the back rows.’ It’s not quite real enough. Maybe I’m too much of an optimist but I cannot quite imagine real people treating each other this way.
Oh, I know I say this a lot but there is so much more I could write about Closer! With the men’s motivations slapped up on screen – desire, revenge, boredom – what motivates Alice and Anna? Why are they how they are? And why aren’t their characters more developed like the men? And is the portrayal of sex work acceptable? Larry sleeps with a nameless sex worker when at a work conference in Asia, which is such a cliche, and Alice’s career as a stripper is certainly considered a step down and a sign of her separation from polite society, which is not cool.
But I wanted to end with something that genuinely shocked me about watching Closer now. I didn’t realise that it still had that kind of power but the ending really shook me up. Not Dan’s physical abuse of Alice, not the revelation of her true identity; it was something much more mundane.
I’ve not seen Closer since getting married. I was single for so long in my twenties that I’ve actually not seen it when I been in any kind of real relationship. And I used to think that Alice won the movie. She had escaped; she had left them all behind and had the chance to start again in New York. Dan was abandoned and devastated, and Larry and Anna were trapped in a loveless marriage. They were all unhappy but Alice had escaped.
Except that Larry and Anna’s final scene looks completely different to me now. They’re both in bed and Larry has fallen asleep in the middle of reading a book. Anna gently takes the book from him, turns off the light and settles down to sleep herself. I’m almost ashamed to admit that I used to think that the fact that she turns away from him to sleep and doesn’t kiss him was a sign that she wasn’t happy in the marriage. Thanks to both my own lack of experience and after the intense passion and obvious lust of previous scenes, I simply didn’t recognise the gentle intimacy of a long term relationship. And now I think it’s a really wonderful and beautiful scene. After all of the heartbreak and cruelty, and after all of the misplaced reliance on love at first sight, it’s kind of wonderful that Larry and Anna have found their way through to something that looks like real, lasting love…
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