Peace through victory - the American way.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Mister Americano Goes to the Movies: Closer

In the Era of Asymmetrical Warfare, of terrorism, of dirty warriors, Mike Nichols' "Closer" is a love story for our time, a movie that portrays love as a combat for affection. Clive Owen, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts and Jude Law play four strangers who fall in and out of love with each other.

Early on, Larry (Owen, who reigns supreme in this movie) says of his rival Dan (Law), "I could have him. ... in a scrap." Larry, brutally honest but with the morals of a thug, recognizes the combat to follow and plays his part with relentlessness and brutality. Yet he never confronts his enemy straight on. Instead, he lays landmines of brutal truth that he knows will destroy his opponent. Dan, who wants Anna (Roberts) but is with Alice (Portman), is completely outgunned in this combat until finally he is denied even Alice by Larry's indirect combat.

But what about the women? Anna is an enigma. In her first appearance she seems a strong woman with character who stands up for herself. But over time she appears to lose that character and strength and goes in whichever direction the wind is blowing strongest. It's hard to comprehend her motivations in bouncing from Larry to Dan and then back again. Perhaps she is simply the prize, which seems a cruel fate for this character because between the two women, she is the accomplished one.

Alice, on the other hand, is nobody's prize and that's exactly how she wants it. She survives by telling lies, lies, and more lies. In fact, she lies so much and so well, that when she finally tells a truth, it's taken as a lie. But most important, she survives by keeping men just outside her own personal emotional space. This far and no closer is her rule, and once a man tries to get within that space, she's done with him and moves on. It's no wonder she's a stripper, an occupation of total and complete deception where the women are never what they present and the intimacy is completely false. She moves through life unchanged by others. We see her at the beginning and the end of the movie walking down a sidewalk, cutting through the crowd the way a duck glides across the water: parting the water, leaving a wake, but never getting wet.

Throughout the movie the audience is left wondering about the motivations of these characters. But understanding is undermined by the moviemaker's storytelling technique. The story is told in scenes of revelation and conflict separated by long stretches of time. It is in those long stretches not shown on screen where the relationships develop and crumble. All we ever see are the beginnings and the ends, the moments when the partners are at their most distant from each other. Ultimately, that doesn't matter because this is not a movie about intimacy, it's a movie about closing the deal.

The lesson of "Closer," for men anyway, is that love goes to the man who knows what he wants and fights the dirtiest to get it. As a friend of mine once told me, "Sometimes ya gotta kick a little ass to get things done." For women, perhaps it's a cautionary tale. I don't know. Or maybe it's merely descriptive. What I do know is this is Clive Owen's movie, and this movie about Larry, is "Closer" with a Z not an S.


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