Seminar Paper, 2010
28 Pages, Grade: 1,0
2. “Time: What a Tricky Little Fucker:” Dramatizing Temporariness, Fluidity
2.1. Time as a fleeting and fluid phenomenon
2.2. The Transience of Human Life
3. “Everything is a Version of Something Else:” The City as a Place of Deception
4. “Identity is Slippery:” The Fluidity of Private and Professional Identity
5. “I don’t love you anymore, goodbye:” The Transience of Love and Relationships
There are many ways of interpreting this play. Is it on the Anouilhesque theme of how innocence and the rare ability to love never goes unpunished in this world? Is it about how no relationship lasts, and how everyone ends up alone or with somebody else in a worse kind of aloneness? Or is it about the noose of time tightening around everyone's neck, closer and closer? Or is this the Eliotian theme about our not being able to bear very much reality, and that the truth ultimately kills? (Simon par. 5)
A reflection on the title after reading the play immediately conjures up the question ‘ Closer … to what?’ Due to the variety of themes dealt with in Closer the title first seems to be highly ambiguous. It might refer to the characters’ desperate longing and unsuccessful quest for love, sincerity as well as physical and emotional intimacy in happy and fulfilling relationships. It could just as well describe their failing attempt at knowing each others’ identity fully, while at the same time playing hide-and-seek with their own. Alternatively, the title possibly alludes to their way of seeking the truth about reality and the perception of time, while facing the transience of human existence, with death coming closer each minute. However, on closer examination, the answer to the initial question is to be found in exactly this polysemy, unified by a common thread: the search for ultimate truth about all these issues. According to Marber, “[i]t is the best possible title for the play because the play is always aspiring to get closer to some kind of definite truth about things but knows it can’t” (qtd. in Rosenthal xxiii). In view of this statement, a question mark should actually be put after the title. For the individual characters do not succeed in gaining absolute knowledge or experiencing complete truthfulness. Truth in Closer seems to be a temporary and volatile condition, and thus, the red thread running through the play are the motifs of fluidity and transience on different levels: time, location as well as the characters’ identities and relationships.
In general, Marber uses an extremely flexible timescale to dramatize the story of two men and two women “whose lives become intertwined in a round-robin game of love foursquare” (Hooper par. 2). In order to highlight the constantly and relatively quickly changing sequence of ‘falling in love’ and ‘falling out of love,’ he lets hours, weeks, months or even years pass rapidly within the few seconds between the individual scenes. The main idea behind this is to focus on the most essential moments in the individual and interdependent relationships between the four main characters, without spending too much time on unnecessary details. The following table (adapted from Rosenthal xxiv) gives an overview of Closer’s structural and temporal framework, including the individual pairings.
illustration not visible in this excerpt
Table 1: Structure of Closer
While the irregular and often big temporal gaps between the scenes are made explicit in the script, they are only subtly alluded to in a performance. So it is entirely left to the audience to realize how time is indirectly revealed or manipulated by listening closely to the dialogue. What makes Closer so pulsating is the fact that most scenes have a cliffhanger ending leaving the audience with mysterious questions like ‘Will they come together?,’ Who is now together with whom?,’ or ‘Who will sleep with whom next?’ “Our desire to find out what has happened next makes this character-driven play more compelling than many a plot-driven murder-mystery, and time is always an essential element in each new revelation – of an affair begun, interrupted or resumed; we are as keen as the characters to ask ‘How long has this been going on?’” (Rosenthal xxvii).
By verbally indicating significant points in time, often retrospectively, the characters construct three “revelatory ‘time-line[s]’” (Rosenthal xxviii) spanning several groups of scenes. Thereby, they indirectly trace Closer’s timescale and the development of the different relationships. The first time line covers the events taking place during the first two years, and is gradually revealed from scenes one to five. In scene one, Dan mentions that he has always dreamt of writing and publishing a novel (Marber 9). In scene two, the audience gets to know that it will be published “next year” (17), and that Anna’s exhibition is going to take place “next summer” (17), i.e. in scene five. While scene three does not reveal anything about the passage of time or the relationship between Anna and Dan, scene four makes clear that the second year has started, that the novel is “on its way,” (33) and that Anna and Dan are still not together. Anna’s and Larry’s relationship is made explicit in scene five, when he introduces himself to Alice as “the Big Fat Liar’s boyfriend” (38). Shortly afterwards, Alice explains that she and Larry have met before, namely “[t]wo and a half years ago” (40), in scene one. The first time line is completed when Anna tells Dan: “I haven’t seen you for a year” (43) – since scene two.
The second time line covers the third year, spanning scenes six to ten. As will be demonstrated, particularly scenes six and eight convey an impression of temporal flexibility and relativity via a clever combination of temporal and spatial fluidity. As Rabey (200) points out, the theatrical impact of these split-up scenes is best felt in a performance, which makes it difficult for the audience to distance and detach themselves from the intense emotionality created on stage. In scene six (June), the stage is divided into two intercut scenes alternately taking place in different locations. One scene shows Dan telling Alice about his affair with Anna: “I’ve been with Anna. I’m in love with her. We’ve been seeing each other for a year” (Marber 48). It is only a few lines later, though in the parallel scene that the audience is informed about Anna’s and Larry’s marriage: “I want to remember this moment forever: the first time I walked through the door, returning from a business trip, to be greeted by my wife” (48). Ironically, Anna’s and Dan’s affair is revealed before Anna’s and Larry’s marriage is even mentioned. Anna also confesses that she and Dan have been lovers “[s]ince her opening last year” (56), and that she is leaving Larry (56). In the next scene (September), Larry elicits the next temporal reference point by asking Alice for how long she has been working as a stripper – “[t]hree months” (63), that is since she and Dan split up in June. In scene eight (October), Dan indicates the development of Anna’s and Larry’s relationship: “You haven’t seen him for four months” (74), since June. Similar to scene six, this scene is divided into two different temporal but identical local zones: consecutive meetings seem to take place concurrently in the same location. First, Dan and Anna are meeting in a restaurant. She tells him that she met Larry some hours ago in the same restaurant to sign their divorce papers. What exactly happened is shown in parallel. Larry blackmailed her into having sex with him one last time before signing. On stage, Anna switches not only between two different time zones (her lunch with Larry and dinner with Dan), but symbolically also between her relationships with them. The theatrical effect of this scene reaches its peak when the two temporal levels start intermingling explicitly. Anna tells Dan to ask Larry, who suddenly seems to appear as a ghost (while actually coming back to the table in the parallel scene), whether she enjoyed their final sexual intercourse.
DAN. I think you enjoyed it; he wheedles you into bed, the old jokes, the strange familiarity,
I think you had ‘a whale of a time’ and the truth is, I’ll never know unless I ask him.
ANNA. Well, why don’t you?
LARRY returns to the table with two drinks. Vodka tonic for ANNA , Scotch and dry for himself. (Marber 80)
This moment not only requires all three of them to be present on stage, but also makes Anna talk with both of them in turn. “[I]t is as though Dan and Larry become the Invisible Man, or spectres whom only Anna can see” (Rosenthal lxv). Using this complex dramatic technique, Marber creatively dramatizes not only her ability to reconcile two men simultaneously but separately, but also her emanating inner conflict. “It shows her torn between the two men. That’s the meaning of what has happened to her” (Marber qtd. in Rosenthal lxv).
While scenes seven and eight do not disclose whether Alice and Larry have had sexual intercourse, scene nine (November) makes clear that their affair started “[a]bout a month ago” (85), in October. Right at the beginning of scene ten, this “pattern of delayed revelation” (Rosenthal xxix) is loosened up, when Dan bluntly expresses his desire to have Anna back from Larry (Marber 92).
The third time line starts in scene eleven, when the story has moved into its fourth year. Alice and Dan have obviously reunited, but start to quarrel about her affair with Larry, and finally break up again after Dan slapped her across the face (108). Their separation is a first sign of “the play […] drawing to a close, […] of events coming full circle” (Rosenthal xxix). This impression mainly results from Alice’s and Dan’s reminiscence about the beginning and ending of their relationship (Marber 101-102), which coincides with their fourth anniversary (100). Similarly, scene twelve (see quotation below) lets Anna and Larry relive their first meeting at the Aquarium in scene four.
ANNA. You’ve got the coat.
LARRY. The white coat. (109)
This moment not only symbolically alludes to scene four, in which the white coat serves as Larry’s means of identification, but also echoes Larry’s interruption of Anna’s and Dan’s conversation at her exhibition in scene five, where he assures he was not spying but only “[l]ovingly observing” (45).
Suddenly, the third time line, and along with it the characters’ coupling and uncoupling, is completed via three essential revelations. First, Anna asks Larry: “How’s Polly? (109). This abrupt announcement of his new relationship is an impactful dramatic effect, emphasizing the swift passage of time: “in an instant we move from thinking Anna and Larry could still be a couple to hearing of his latest flame. Time has not stood still; they’ve both moved on yet again” (Rosenthal xxx). Second, two essential facts are unexpectedly disclosed in retrospect, namely Alice’s death and Alice’s and Dan’s separation.
LARRY. How did she die?
ANNA. I don’t know. When he phoned, he said it happened last night in New York. He’s flying out today and he wanted to see us before he left.
LARRY. So they weren’t together?
ANNA. They split up in January. (Marber 111)
In conclusion, the four and a half years compressed in the twelve scenes and the irregular leaps in time from one scene to the next show how time can fool us by slipping from our hands unnoticed. The resulting relativity of time and its perception lets even the audience ask itself: “How can something that was so real and so potent then, now be just glimpses?” (Marber qtd. in Rosenthal xxxi). The intricate temporal framework interlaced within the characters’ verbal interaction serves to stress the fact that the truth about the quick transformation of reality is often only realized retrospectively. This idea of fluidity is alluded to by Larry’s remark to Anna in scene six “Time: what a tricky little fucker” (Marber 49). In this respect, “Closer dramatizes the way in which millions of us recall intimate relationships, not as day-to-day continuums but as a sequence of moments” (Rosenthal xxxi). So the experience of time is presented as a completely relative phenomenon, depending on the individual point of view and subjective perception. An absolute truth about it is unlikely to be attainable.
Human mortality is one of the major themes addressed in Closer. In fact, it is present from the first scene onwards, in which Alice’s traffic accident mirrors her death in the last scene under the same circumstances – hit by a car. In general, scene one is characterized by a sarcastic and bitter tone, starting with Alice asking Dan about his job as obituary writer.
ALICE. Do you like it … in the dying business?
DAN. It’s a living.
ALICE. Did you grow up in a graveyard?
DAN. Yeah. Suburbia. (Marber 6)
Other examples include Alice referring to Dan’s age of thirty-five as “[h]alf time” (8), and telling him about watching “the carcasses” (9) being unloaded at Smithfield meat market as well as visiting the memorial graveyard in Postman’s Park (9), which is generally a symbol of human mortality (see chapter 3). Dan even indirectly relates Alice’s habit of smoking to death by telling her about his mother’s fatal end due to a smoking-related illness (9). However, under Alice’s influence, he later starts smoking again himself (27), thereby accepting the risks associated with it. The motif of smoking as some kind of slow suicide is taken up in scene five, when Larry, who has stopped smoking, also warns Alice against her nicotine dependence: “Pleasure and self-destruction, the perfect poison” (39).
Ironically, Larry and Dan also exhibit addictive behavior: they try to overcome, or at least repress their fear of death by indulging in sexual passions. This may well keep them active and alive for as long as possible, but does surely not suspend their own mortality. From this perspective, one of the principles the plot is based on could be circumscribed as “‘We’re going to die, so let’s be selfish and get whatever we can while we’re here.’ A lot of sex in the play is charged with fear of death: ‘Let’s fuck and we might feel a bit more alive […]’” (Rosenthal l). For instance, realizing his own limited life time, Dan tries to make the most of it by using death as a pretext for getting everything he wants, especially Anna. When she tells him she loves Larry because “[h]e’s kind” (Marber 44), Dan becomes furious and desperate. He simply does not want to understand her reasonable, considerate way of thinking and behaving.
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