‘Closer’: Expense of Spirit; Waste of Time

Original poster.

Original poster.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on “Closer” (Columbia, 2004), but I do want to offer it as an example of the sort of picture that “Red Dust” so refreshingly is not. Nobody has any fun getting laid in “Closer,” which is a very steamed up tale of four exceedingly attractive people who never stop saying disagreeable things to each other. Like so many other pictures going all the way back to “Sunrise” and beyond that too, “Closer” takes Lust as its subject and presents Desire as if it were — in every particular — cheerless, sour, intense, deadly serious . . . and no goddamn fun. “Closer” is a one-hundred-and-four-minute bummer. It all reminds me of the old gag: “Doctor, it hurts when I do this.” “Don’t do that.”

Patrick Marber (who based the screenplay on his own West End/Broadway play) must surely have had Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129 lowering upon his brain while he wrote this thing. Ever since Shakespeare wrote Sonnet 129, writers have been taking their cue from his vividly pessimistic tirade against Lord Boffulation and all his pomps.

Sonnet129
Sonnet 129

Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murd’rous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
Enjoyed no sooner but despisèd straight,
Past reason hunted; and, no sooner had
Past reason hated as a swallowed bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad;
Mad in pursuit and in possession so,
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
     All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
     To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

In “Closer,” sex goes directly to being “despisèd straight” without first having been enjoyed sooner. At its happiest (that is, in the first flush of “romance”), it’s all, like, snide and snotty and fuck you man! Later on it’s, “I would have loved you  . . . forever! Now please go.” (That’s verbatim: a strange concept of forever, n’est ce pas? It could be a whole new grammatical tense: the conditional eternal.) Apparently, we’re supposed to take Marber’s script as a hard-hitting exposé of Sex in Our Time — you know, warts and all; instead we get warts and nothing. As I watched it, I kept thinking of Parolles’ lines from “All’s Well That Ends Well,” in which he tries to persuade the heroine not to hold on to her virginity. He tells her

[Y]our virginity, your old virginity, is like one of our French withered pears, it looks ill, it eats drily; marry, ’tis a withered pear; it was formerly better; marry, yet ’tis a withered pear: will you anything with it?

In “Closer,” the French withered pear is not old virginity, but sex itself. Away with it. I’ll none.

The individual scenes offer little evidence of what is involved in the sexual act; we get a lot of acid chatter about it, but nothing too specific. All we learn is that sex seems to involve a whole lot of teary-eyed snarling and browbeating  . . . and typing — lots and lots of typing! Hotcha! For Clive Owen and Jude Law, sex involves logging on to an anonymous online sex site and role-playing (Law pretends to be a nasty chick, Owen plays the dirty daddy): we see them typing fast and furious in their darkened rooms, to the overture from Rossini’s La Cenerentola (I guess that makes them Cinder-Fellas). Is anything more tiresome than watching movie stars type? Until the next big thing comes along that supplants texting, I’m afraid we’re in for a lot more typing lessons in the movies. For Natalie Portman, sex includes wearing a pink Louise Brooks wig, slithering round a pole and sneering; for Julia Roberts, oh hell, I don’t remember — it’s been a few hours since I saw it. To hear Marber tell it, human sexuality is an addictive form of wretchedness that is ardently sought so that it can be laboriously endured. These four are worse than junkies: heroin addicts get hooked because it feels so damned good — at least for a time. But the quartet in “Closer” have even less fun going to hell than Lana Turner had in “Madame X.” If people who look as good as these four do can’t have any fun, what chance have the rest of us got? It’s a bummer, man, a great big bummer.

The actors are beautiful and they go through their paces as if their lives depended on it. They don’t cheat, but the script does.

One thought on “‘Closer’: Expense of Spirit; Waste of Time

  1. Gregorio

    Looooove this post on Robert Wagner.
    So comprehensive yet so easy to read.
    The beautiful first image matches the great prose of the first paragraph.
    Kudos.

    Reply

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