Hearts and Minds
by Brody Rossiter
Cinematic portrayals of romance are often tinted with bittersweet tones that highlight the despairing lows of falling for one another. From Woody Allen’s neurotic wrestles between man and woman, to the ethereal longings of Terrence Malick, the pitfalls of desire are well-documented, yet very few pictures have distilled the true nature of distinctly adult relationships as profoundly as Mike Nichols’ astounding 2004 drama, Closer.
Starring Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts and Clive Owen as London-based individuals who become increasingly romantically and sexually entangled due to a series of unforeseen yet perversely serendipitous events, Closer is a film that deals in both the raw beauty and corruptive presence of desire.
The performances are powerful and unflinching in their severity; a sense of selfish reality coats the romantic undertones like an unctuous oil slick of promiscuity and deviancy. Often romance on film – especially films with an ensemble of a-list actors – excuses what is ultimately the want to fuck somebody else. Abusive boyfriends, self-obsessed girlfriends, and wide-eyed optimism cultivate sympathy in audiences, slowing convincing us that a little cheating is for the best. Nichols’ examination of falling in and out of love and lust presents its characters on one level, albeit a disingenuous and morally unattractive level, but nevertheless, a sobering and lifelike one.
Nobody is particularly good or bad, sometimes they’re led by their hearts and sometimes their physical urges. They’re just human-beings, fragile and careless. The foursome do terrible things to one another, playing fast and loose with sexual politics and societies rigorous rules regarding monogamy, but rather than preaching rights and wrongs, Nichols’ erotic game asks questions of the viewer while drawing parallels with our own fractured relationship histories.
A provocative picture that finds its potency in the simplicity of our base desires while also remaining deeply engaging and erudite, Closer is a modern love masterpiece besieged by desire. While cinematic sonnets and tear-jerkers may well please the masses, the pure hatred and sense of betrayal distilled into a furious conversation between ex-lovers will always matter more. The emotions, expressions and fevered words are tangible and easily achieved in our everyday lives. Closer is uncomfortably close to the bone, haunting your senses yet still exciting with every superbly acted exchange and separation. A brave, mature and searing study of what it means to be in a relationship.