Closer opens with Natalie Portman and Jude Law in slow motion, to the sound of Damien Rice. You would think the scene were designed specifically to appeal to my senses – well, mine and most girls my age in 2004.
I saw this movie twice in the movie theater back then, and I bought Damien Rice’s album O because of this scene. Most of my friends found the movie depressing. My boss voiced vague concerns about my mental health* when I played O at work. But I don’t feel depressed when I hear sad music or see a sad story about four more or less messed up people. If you’re feeling blue and for some ridiculous reason want to drag yourself even further down, watch a romantic comedy. Wonder why your life doesn’t look like that. If you want to be feel better, seek catharsis. I find sad movies somewhat comforting in their brutal honesty – and in the way they remind me that at least I’m not a character in Closer.
And so, seven years and another Damien Rice album later, I’m still fascinated and impressed by how complex Closer manages to be, even though it’s just four characters interacting in a handful of scenes over a period of four years. The trailer tagline is “If you believe in love at first sight, you never stop looking.” It’s about dating, cheating, hurting people, but actually it’s about how even when we’re trying to be confident, rational and responsible, emotions and impulses can lead us to make decisions we know are stupid and hurtful.
Of course I identify with Natalie Portman’s character because she’s the one who plays a 24-year-old girl. But she’s also the one who tells her possessive, complicated writer boyfriend, when he’s just announced that although he loves her, he’s leaving her for someone he just helplessly fell in love with:
“Oh, as if you had no choice?!?! There’s a moment, there’s always a moment: I can do this, I can give into this, or I can resist it. And I don’t know when your moment was, but I bet you there was one.”
To her, the only way to leave is by saying: I don’t love you anymore. Good-bye. And if you still love someone, you don’t leave. Which means that while she seems to submit completely and love unconditionally, it’s with the knowledge that she has absolute unbreakable rules about how things are supposed to work. Like in her job as a stripper, she gives everything, up until a certain irrevocable limit.
And I think that’s the point of this story, which so many of my friends found pointless: How much control do we really have over our emotions? When do we stop acting rationally? When does the game suddenly become too real? Or as Roger Ebert writes in a review you really shouldn’t read until after you’ve seen the film:
There is the sense that their trusts and betrayals are not fundamentally important to them; “You’ve ruined my life,” one says, and then is told, “You’ll get over it.”
Yes, unless, fatally, true love does strike at just that point when all the lies have made it impossible. Is there anything more pathetic than a lover who realizes he (or she) really is in love, after all the trust has been lost, all the bridges burnt and all the reconciliations used up?
(Vaguely) related post: Love means not leaving
* I’m doing very well, thank you. If you’re not as happy as I am, here are 11 ways to feel better.