Themes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 846

Sex is a significant theme in Closer , yet it exists separately from love. Throughout the play sex is used as a device for the characters to manipulate each other. Larry and Alice are the most adept at using it, albeit it in different ways. Larry frequently uses it as...

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Sex is a significant theme in Closer, yet it exists separately from love. Throughout the play sex is used as a device for the characters to manipulate each other. Larry and Alice are the most adept at using it, albeit it in different ways. Larry frequently uses it as punishment, particularly in his excoriation of Anna for her affair with Dan. He demands to know every detail of the sexual encounter that occurred in their home just before his return from New York. Once he establishes this line of attack, Anna responds equally forcefully. She tells Larry that Dan is a more sensitive lover while Larry is a brutish pig. Later, when Larry demands that Anna sleep with him in order to finalize their divorce, he is simultaneously debasing Anna while fueling Dan’s jealousy. Likewise, when he tells Dan that he had a sexual relationship with Alice, it similarly drives Dan to extremes. In these exchanges, Marber portrays the men as being territorial about sex and sexuality.

Alice uses her sexuality as a kind of power. In the strip club scene, Larry debates whether or not stripping is in anyway empowering. To prove his point, he makes her strip when she will not give him the information he so desperately craves. Ironically, Alice does yield power over Larry because she will not reveal herself to him. He accurately recognizes that her sexuality as a stripper is all artifice, designed to tell men what they want to hear. Alice hides her true identity (including her true sexuality) and presents Larry with a man’s ideal of female sexuality.

The idea of detachment is another strong undercurrent in the play. In the first scene, Dan describes his lack of passion for his dead-end job. In some ways, his attraction to Alice is built on the notion of escaping his everyday ennui. Larry’s encounter on the Internet in which Dan poses as Anna also reveals a level of disconnects. Larry’s pursuit of anonymous sex with no emotional baggage indicates a compartmentalization of sex. Marber explores the notion of detachment most fully, however, in the two female characters. Both Anna and Alice have unreachable qualities that drive the men in the play to pursue them. Anna’s deep reserves of sadness attract both Dan and Larry, both of whom claim to truly love her. Marber implies that both of them want to be the man who finally makes this unhappy person happy. Anna rarely exhibits extreme emotions of any kind; in fact, she seems to take every twist and turn in her relationships with a level of expectation. She is never surprised when something goes wrong because she inherently believes that she deserves it.

Alice’s aloofness frustrates both Dan and Larry who long to get to the real person. When she does reveal an element of truth to Larry, he does not believe her because he is so accustomed to her lies. The women also recognize the detachment in each other. Early in the play, when Alice stands before the picture of herself crying, she criticizes Anna for phoniness. Alice sees that Anna has aesthetic zed misery and pain to make beautiful art without actually engaging the source of the pain. Anna’s art is primarily focused on individuals, further emphasizing her (and the play’s) obsession with isolation.

Although the characters spend most of the play destroying it, love is also crucial to Closer. The characters only seem to recognize love when it has been ruined. Dan loves Alice, but keeps using Anna as a way to avoid fully engaging it. His first attraction to Anna at the photo shoot comes out of nowhere, and he blames his philandering on boredom. Similarly, he lets Larry get the best of him and demands that Alice confess her relationship with Larry, even though he and Alice had broken up at the time. In the last scene, he truly mourns her and no longer seems interested in Anna, despite the fact that both of them are now single. Structurally, Alice has to die for Dan to recognize his love for her. He also acknowledges his pattern of behavior when he mentions Ruth, an offstage character he was dating when he met Alice in the first scene, has married and had children.

Similarly, Anna recognizes that Larry loves her but cannot love him back equally. That she begins her affair with Dan and still marries Larry indicates her inability to maintain a loving relationship. Alice loves Dan, but only with the stipulation that he accept the limits to the amount of truth she is willing to tell him. As in the strip club scene, she recognizes that he is in love with this “version” of her and fears that he might not love the real her. Ironically, Larry is the most in touch with his feelings, admitting in the final scene that he is dating someone he doesn’t really care about. He is still in love with Anna, but unwilling to continue the games that they have played.

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