Closer (2004) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Brainscan
"It's a marvel of modern filmmaking in the way it so immediately renders universal human experience almost unrecognizable."
Yes, Salon hit the nail right on the head. The defining characteristic of Closer is that it bears no resemblance to reality. Some people commented that it includes no characters with which the audience can identify. That is true enough, but the reason is not because the script contains only unlikable humans. It is because the script contains no humans at all, as Salon noted. It is a four character play in which the four characters are not like any people in any way. We don't really know anything about them. Each of them speaks in flowery apothegms, polished literary witticisms, and prepared stagy phrases. Their exchanges of dialogue are not natural, but rather stagy situations in which each of them invariably makes a witty and clever response when confronted in some way. They are not real people, but symbolic archetypes speaking for all men and/or women. Imagine a scenario in which the characters take turns speaking like JFK's inaugural address, except that their speech is dotted with cussing that would embarrass the U.S. Navy's enlisted men on leave in Manila.
Actors absolutely love this kind of material because it frees them from their most difficult burden, which in drama is realism. When the actors get to play symbolic characters like these, there is no such "burden of realism," since archetypical characters are not three-dimensional. They are there to pontificate the proper thoughts at the proper times. For an actor, it is a return to high school dramatic interpretation competitions, a contest to see who can "show off" the most impressively.
All of that is pretty much indisputable. Some critics failed in their analysis by making the illogical leap from observing that to saying, " ... therefore, it sucks." Whaa ... ? Where is it written that the only acceptable type of character is realistic and believable? Do you believe in Homer Simpson and Mr. Burns? Do they seem real to you? Of course not. What about Shakespeare's Richard III? Do you think he is a reasonable interpretation of the character and motivations of the real Richard III? Do you also think the real king ran around declaiming Shakespearean oratory? Ditto for Blanche DuBois, Ebeneezer Scrooge, Long John Silver, Captain Ahab, Doc Holliday (the fictional version), and just about every character ever created by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Edward Albee, or Quentin Tarantino. These grandiose literary archetypes are some of the most memorable characters in the history of fiction, yet all of them are complete bullshit, all of them virtually alien life forms. In fact, there is nothing wrong with that at all. Complete bullshit, or more politely, the distillation of common human types into larger-than-life characters, is the very foundation of fiction, not to mention mythology, and possibly religion as well. If you look up "fiction" in a good dictionary, one of the definitions will be "lies."
It is not necessary to dismiss Closer as incompetent because it is artificial, contrived, superficial, and - did I mention artificial? It is that way because it means to be. It is deliberately mannered, and there are many people who not only like this kind of play, but think that this type of contrived literary construct represents the very apotheosis of man's artistic achievements here on earth. If you are not one of those people, if you're not into that whole Edward Albee thing where the characters mercilessly strip away all the self-respect of all the other characters, it could be a real chore to watch this film. Let's assume for a moment that you're not in the Albee crowd, and you don't want to sit through a bunch of people re-creating "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" without the wit. What else does the film have to offer?
This type of project will inherently produce polarized reviews. The British critics (the three cited in the Guardian's summary, plus the BBC) averaged only one and a half stars, and savaged the film. On the other hand, Roger Ebert and James Berardinelli thought it was genius.
How do you determine which camp you belong to?
Well, Closer is two hours of archetypal people talking very frankly and rhetorically to one another as they stand or sit or recline inside of ordinary buildings. Making the film even more aloof is the fact that these are archetypes of cold, self-absorbed, unpleasant people. Closer was an award winning play, and the film is a gift from Mike Nichols to the people who like to see play-to-film adaptations.
When Closer came out in 2004, Mrs Brainscan tricked me into seeing it. She
mispronounced the title, knowing that with images of Rollie Fingers and Goose
Gossage and the incomparable Bruce Sutter in my mind I could be led to this
particular pool of water without further threat or bribery. A cesspool as it
turned out. Closer is tedious. It is the very definition of tedious. In God's
dictionary, right next to tedious, is a scan of the DVD cover to Closer. And
think what that took. Clive Owen is God. The rest of Sin City is bang-up good
stuff, but the long sequence with Clive Owen is just flat-out brilliant. He is
amazing. I wish I was Clive Owen. And in Closer he is tedious...what he says
is tedious, what he does is
tedious. Maybe the sight of Natalie Portman's private parts stunned him...it
would have stunned me, I am
Only two scenes save it from being entirely unwatchable. In both, Ms Portman
plays a stripper.
There were two other films entitled Closer made in 2004 ...
...maybe one of them is what I am looking for.
Return to the Movie House home page