Saturday, April 09, 2005

"Closer" (the movie)

Middlebrow and I watched "Closer" last night. A friend mentioned that I should see it so that we could discuss it. Let me preface my remarks by saying that I love Clive Owen pretty much unconditionally. That said, let me proceed with my critique:
Yes, the film is stagey. It was adapted from a play and the film pretty much shows that. I don't mind the stiff, dramatic dialogue. In fact, I thought much of the dialogue was sharp and witty.
My problem is that I'm not sure where the moral/ethical center of the film is. In the end, as I told Middlebrow last night, the social contract triumphs over either love or justice. Now, by ethical or moral I don't necessarily mean a religious sense of morals or ethics. What I mean is that I want there to be some statement of some kind about the decisions made by the characters. Maybe they are "bad" in some kind of cultural sense, but that the author is commenting on the decisions or the character of the characters in some way. But in the end, I felt like the manipulative people triumphed and the characters who felt genuine emotions were still sad and depressed. Yes, I know, life is like this. But do I really need a play or movie to tell me this? I know life is hard and love can often time cause more pain than anything else. And sure, the dialogue was good and Clive Owen torched the screen every time he showed up. And Natalie Portman is ridiculously attractive. So what? This was my feeling at the end of the movie. People who feel suffer, and people who are good at manipulating other people continue to be good at manipulating other people. They have nice offices and make a lot of money and marry the pretty women (no pun intended). The other people suffer and continue to suffer. Lie, the movie seems to say, because then you won't feel bad and neither will anyone else.
What, I ask you, IS the moral center of this movie? I am asking my students to write manifestos of what art is for. I think it's time I write one. I used to think art should be unsettling, and I still think this. But it can't be merely unsettling. It has to be unsettling with a point. That's all for now. I anxiously await your comments.


Tim said...

First, I hope you don't mind me being here. I sort of feel like an intruder.

I recently watched this movie with my wife. I was warned by a good friend that I wouldn't enjoy it. He made mention of all the betrayals. However, he also told me that Natalie Portman was quite sexual and provocative. I said, "I thought you were trying to stop me from seeing it!" (Note: Portman is perhaps the most beautiful actress in my book). Anyhow, yes, there was a very charged sexual side to the film which was about the only thing either myself or my wife enjoyed. The rest was simply painful to watch, and the sex didn't nearly make up for it.

I like the question you pose. I can't claim to be any sort of expert on what art should or shouldn't be. I am not sure anyone really can. I guess for me this movie was simply about reflecting a certain reality. I am sure many people have lives which are hopeless and empty (such is how I perceived those in the movie). Perhaps the point was that there are times in life that we don't get any sort of satisfaction or happiness in the end...and that lying, betrayal and pain exist in human relationships. Sure, this seems like something intuitive to us all, but there is no accounting for the taste of the author.

In any case, I didn't experience any characters being triumphant. To me, they all lost horribly. So, I can't really relate to the struggle you are having regarding whether the author was sanctioning some twisted form of morality.

However, my biggest gripe with the movie was more on the emotional level. I really don't want to invest myself in a story in which I dislike all the characters. I mean, during most of the film I felt horrible. I was cringing at the behavior of these people, and feeling hopeless, and angry that I felt stuck watching it. Maybe the movie was a cruel joke the author was playing on the rest of us. Maybe that was the point :)

Rae said...

Dear Dr. Write,
As you know, I've been waiting to discuss Closer with you for eons. I think that you nailed it, as far as what I felt, that there was no moral imperative to the movie. In a sense, there was no passion. Sure there is a lot of shallow physical passion (and my passion for Clive Owen) but no strong belief in any kind of truth. I know that when I (or you) write, the characters/story may be dark and depressing but there is something driving that, something that compels me, not just as a device for making the reader squirm. It's a cop out.

When I saw Closer many moons ago, one of the things I struggled with was that it stuck around in my head, and not because it was so rich with stuff to think about but because I couldn't get at it. Part of me thought that there was something about beauty and how it makes bad behavior palatable (duh) and somehow implicates me the viewer in this so I deserve to feel gross about how the characters treat each other. It also made me think about likeable/sympathetic characters and is there something to be said for unlikeable characters and a reflection of ourselves or recognition of what we don't like about ourselves? (see also We Don't Live Here Anymore) Maybe, but who has time to watch things with characters we don't like? I'd much rather be making pots.

I love movies and I don't like being cheated by them. I felt cheated by Closer. It didn't do the necessary work. I liked the scene when Clive Owen comes home and says he's been with a prostitute. I admit I love that Damien Rice song. I even like (as corny as it is) that Alice wasn't Natalie Portman's real name. And they're all gorgeous. But in the end I didn't buy it because the movie didn't make me buy it.

P.S. I wish this had spell check
P.P.S. According to my brother-in -law, and according to Gary Oldman who is his new best friend (he is making the movie from brother-in-law's book) Luc Besson had sex with Natalie Portman while shooting the Professional. She was 12!

Dr. Write said...

I think you are right. In the end, though I appreciated the beauty and sexiness of the characters, I didn't really care too much.
I love the insider gossip about Natalie Portman too. Though it makes me feel a bit bad about her. Kind of sad.
Is Oldman making "C & E"? I can't wait!

Rae said...

G.O. is making C&E strangely enough. He and Darin are new BFs. G.O. calls often to discuss. I know, I think it's sad about Natalie Portman. She was pre-pubescent!
Day 3 of no job--starting to get the hang of it.