Patrick Marber's Closer: A Classism Analysis

1997 saw Patrick Marber's award-winning play Closer make its premiere in London; seven years later a film adaptation was released, directed by Mike Nichols and going on to win a BAFTA and two Golden Globes. On my last viewing of the film, with a friend as au fait with the plot as I am, I pointed out several details that related to classism. This is not, of course, the main theme that suits the work, as the prominent idea of the narrative is that, "the truth doesn't bring us closer" - the question of absolute honesty being paramount to a relationship is the story's greatest debate, but with character traits that crack archetypes in a post-modernistic manner, I want to discuss the role and portrayal of each figure's class.

Note: For the purposes of this piece, a combination of the film and play will be used. All characters, settings, time differences etc. will follow that of the 1997 play, as will the majority of speech, but due to not having a text on hand (and the film script being available on the internet), quotes will be taken from the 2004 film. For the large majority these are exactly the same and follow the same gist, but some discrepancies may occur.
Spoilers may be included in this, but even if you know them, the film is worth a watch. It's not award winning for nothing.

Before we can gain an idea of how and why the characters interact with each other in the manner which they do, it is appropriate to introduce them, with their relevant archetypes and a brief classist analysis.

Alice Ayres.
A young American woman in her early 20s, "Alice" is both a pseudonym and a catalyst for the film. Though the fact that we don't learn Alice's true name until the film's closing sequence is for the most part an issue of truth more than classism, it supports the fact that she is a highly minimalist character - she doesn't even need her name. Upon first meeting Dan, he asks where her baggage is and she replies, "I don't have any". Later, after a break up, she says, "I don't need things". She describes herself as a "waif" and that she can "disappear". Before the story begins she is living in New York, which she then returns to at its close, having moved to London after leaving "a male" with the line, "I don't love you anymore, goodbye". Love is, in fact, the main trait connected with Alice. Working first as a stripper, then a waitress in a coffee shop whilst she is with Daniel, before returning to stripping, she is happy to settle for a convenient job that will bring in money with no ambition to progress - she denies her work in the coffee shop as being a temporary thing. However, on love she is more intent. "Why isn't love enough?" is a piercing question she delivers to Dan upon their first break up, and on their second: "where is this love? I can't see it, I can't touch it, I can't feel it, I can hear it. I can hear some words, but I can't do anything with your easy words." Finally, Alice smokes through the majority of the film but had quit by the end thanks to "deep inner strength". The characters' smoking relates more directly to their relationships, and links between honesty and purity than class, though.

Daniel Woolf.
Working in the "Siberia of journalism", Daniel is an obituarist attempting to become a novelist. This is a prime example of the class divide in the film; the less creative, employed, jobs are the "working class" ones. We meet him as a journalist, late for work as he tries to play the romantic hero to Alice's traffic accident which opens the film, looking somewhat downtrodden and bemused by the girl's freedom and minimalism: it could be argued that Alice almost seems exempt from class, work, and commitments and he is enticed by the happy-go-lucky attitude that this, along with her youth, creates. (Note - here I mean exempt much as a traveler would not quite fit into a class in another country. She is not permanent nor integrated enough to fit anywhere). When we next see him, he is having his photo taken for the book. He looks distinctly smarter, is in a middle class environment and is on the hopeful verge of making his own living via book sales. Six months later and the book is "on its way" to sink "without trace". He describes himself as a "failed novelist" as though trying to recover some moment of this elusive former glory, and eventually goes on to be editor of the obituaries page; not through promotion - the previous editor died.

A photographer and the most middle class of them all, Anna is at the beginnings of a divorce as the plot begins. She lives in a (sizeable) studio apartment before buying a house with Larry after they marry, and the only scene to boast all four characters in is at her exhibition opening, which features a photo of Alice crying. Describing fish as "therapeutic", she visits aquariums when she can, but also shows a more down-to-earth, perhaps "common", side, such as when Larry buys her a balloon for her birthday. Dan and Anna meet up at an opera as she supposed to about to become a "double divorcee", another moment where Daniel attempts to become more middle class to fit in with Anna's likes.

Of all the characters, Larry's has the most development not just in terms of class, but throughout - it's easy to see why his performance won several awards. From a working class background, Larry begins the plot working in the NHS and using his free time on lunch breaks to talk on sex chat rooms and then meet up with those he speaks to. Though he makes the move from being employed and lacking any degree of autonomy to going into the private practise, he doesn't try to deny his working class roots. In the middle of this process he makes a trip to New York and describes the event as such: "as dermatological conferences go, it was a riot". To Alice, he describes his relationship with Anna as, "a princess can kiss a toad", and where Daniel aspires for total honesty in relationships (see "honesty" as a synonym for "transparency" and therefore "purity"), Larry protests, "You don't know the first thing about love because you don't understand compromise", and to Dan's, "You think the heart is like a diagram", "Have you ever seen a human heart? It looks like a fist wrapped in blood". There are endless points where his syntax reveals his attitude but the key line has to be where he proclaims "working class guilt" (in contrast to the "middle class guilt" Anna suggests) over the assumed expense and alleged "attitude" of their el-decoration bathroom.

For the majority of the play, the foursome split off into pairs, generally Alice & Dan and Anna & Larry. For the majority of the time, whatever middle-class Anna wants, Anna gets, whether her intentions be faithful or not - when she wants the best of both worlds she is denied the lesser of two evils and ultimately ends up happy. If Closer had any kind of "winner", Anna would be it. Ironically or not, Larry even describes her ability to deceive him "exquisitely" for a year as "phenomenal" and "clever". The rich get away with anything.

On the other hand, class-exempt Alice, the only one to never cheat on any partner, and to be honest about the fact she slept with one without intending to hurt the other, is hit by Dan. She is physically punished despite being the least guilty of the parties.

Without wanting to cut too many corners or fill too many blanks, it's important to note that Larry never hits either of the women - as much as Larry may be proud of his working class roots, it is Dan who takes out anger in the physical manner. The best comparison might be the more white collar lie of Anna never sending the divorce papers to juxtapose Dan's more blue collar violence.

Also note that when Alice and Dan move in together, they live in a small flat - Anna and Larry live in a big, open plan house with the aforementioned bathroom.

Although Anna and Alice's friendship outside of the relationships is not mentioned in the film, it exists in the play and once again touches on Anna's down-to-earth side and Alice's exempt-of-class manner. In play and film, Anna's openly admits she is "not a thief", and whilst happy to cheat to Larry and Dan with each other, she is reluctant when it comes to hurting Alice, but that drifts into gender politics over class.

In contrast, the men far from get on. The greatest example of the class clash is in Larry's private surgery where he switches between collected and vicious. He mocks the fact that Daniel had wanted to climb the social ladder and end up with Anna - or vice versa - by calling him, again looking bedraggled and this time soaked with rain, a "towering romantic hero" and himself, a private surgeon, "somewhat common". He even yells, "You writer! You liar!". Larry makes the transformation from a man on an internet sex forum, to being a plus one four months down the line to an art exhibition opening musing, "like a cat who got the cream", that he could "have" the other lover "if it came to it in a scrap", to becoming a married homeowner, opening up a private practice, to falling asleep (whilst reading) having won his love back.

What is rich, in Closer, comes out best. Middle class Larry and Anna end up happy and married, working class Daniel is dumped in an airport hotel having ruined his chance with Alice, and class-exempt Alice returns home to New York - in the play she dies, and in the film it is assumed she does. Although it is a struggle to define her class, it might even be best to describe hers with the idea of the "underclass". In which case, the middle class get their own way, and the underclass disappear almost totally.


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