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The Ending Of Closer Explained

2004's "Closer" is all about relationships and has some truly hilarious moments, but it's basically the opposite of a romantic comedy. Dan (Jude Law), Alice (Natalie Portman), Anna (Julia Roberts), and Larry (Clive Owen) take turns being miserable and manipulative as their lives repeatedly collide over the course of a few years. Some of the characters might be a little more well-adjusted than others, but by the end of the movie it's pretty clear that all of them have some issues they need to work through.

Directed by Mike Nichols and written by Patrick Marber, "Closer" earned plenty of plaudits at the time, with Portman and Owen both getting Oscar nominations for their work. They give mesmerizing performances that you really can't look away from, even if the characters occasionally make you want to hide your eyes. It won't go down as one of the best romantic movies of all time, but it's an undeniably entertaining film about how relationships go bad — and how they can start bad, too. The characters in "Closer" live in a whirlwind of possessiveness, obsessiveness, and jealousy that makes just about every relationship appear doomed to fail.

Because the relationships in "Closer" are so unstable, they can also be a little hard to follow. The story breezes past entire years as lies pile on top of betrayals and cause relationships to fall apart and come back together. Here's how it all turned out and what the ending of the film means.

What you need to remember about the plot of Closer

What's worse than an unhealthy relationship? Two unhealthy relationships. "Closer" starts by introducing Alice, a former stripper fueled by wanderlust, and Dan, a failed novelist turned obituary writer. The two hit it off and start dating, but their honeymoon phase doesn't last that long. Dan finally publishes a book, and he becomes infatuated by Anna, a professional photographer who's hired to take Dan's picture for the novel's release. When they first meet, Dan kisses Anna, who almost immediately reveals the truth to Alice.

Despite what happened, Dan and Alice stay together. However, Dan just can't get Anna off his mind. As part of his strange obsession with her, Dan pretends to be Anna while talking to other men in online chat rooms. Dan decides to play a prank on one of them, telling a man named Larry to meet Anna at the aquarium the following day. As luck would have it, the real Anna actually is at the aquarium when Larry arrives, and after a supremely awkward first encounter, the two of them fall in love.

A year goes by, and Dan can't stop obsessing about Anna. He takes Alice to one of Anna's art gallery openings, and she meets Larry for the first time. Dan and Anna kick off an affair and they continue secretly seeing each other for the next year, even as Anna gets married to Larry.

What happens at the end of Closer?

Of course, Dan and Anna don't keep their affair a secret forever. Eventually the two of them tell their respective partners what's going on. Alice begs Dan to stay with her, but he refuses. She decides to completely disappear from Dan's life in response. Larry, on the other hand, is enraged at Anna and storms out of their apartment, but he becomes determined to win Anna back.

Some time passes, and Larry meets Alice for the second time. This time the two meet while Alice is working at a strip club, and later that night they sleep together. Larry keeps his relationship with Alice at just a one night stand. Anna files for divorce, and in a last ditch attempt to win her back, Larry tells Anna that he'll only sign the divorce papers if she agrees to sleep with him one last time. When Anna tells Dan what happened, he's horrified, and their relationship begins to deteriorate.

Amazingly, Larry's plan works. Dan and Anna completely fall apart, and she decides to get back together with Larry. Devastated, Dan shows up at Larry's office and begs for Anna back, but Larry tells him where to find Alice and urges Dan to get back together with her. Dan does restart things with Alice, but he becomes obsessed with knowing whether or not she slept with Larry. Alice realizes that Dan doesn't trust her, and she leaves him. As the movie comes to a close, we learn that Alice's real name is Jane — a fact she only ever revealed to Larry.

Does the ending of the play differ from the movie?

Adapting your own stage show into a movie seems like a fairly straightforward process, but no adaptation is ever one-to-one. Plus, no author can resist the opportunity to make changes to their own work. For the most part, both versions of Patrick Marber's "Closer" are the same. The movie and the play follow the same four characters, and their relationships progress and fall apart in nearly identical ways. Only a few details got changed from the stage to the screen, but some of those details make a big difference to the characters and to the ending.

The movie version of "Closer" removes an entire scene from the second act of the play. In the scene, Alice confronts Anna about her affair with Dan, and she takes a chance to steal back the pictures that Anna took of her when they initially met after Dan's photography session. This scene lets the two leading women have another tense interaction, and it also gives Alice much more agency in how her own story plays out. For whatever reason, the screenplay is more focused on the men of the story.

Perhaps the biggest difference is that Alice dies at the end of the play. Sadly, she gets hit by a car after returning to America. Dan flies over to identify her body because there's nobody else to do it. While this wasn't included in the movie, the final shot actually drops a massive hint about Alice's fate. Like at the beginning of the film, she's shown crossing a road, though eagle-eyed viewers have noticed that she's crossing with the "don't walk" sign lit up red. She escaped with her life when she was struck by a car in London, but the play tells us that she's not so lucky this time around.

Why does Dan introduce Anna to Larry?

Dan had no idea what he was setting in motion when he first introduced Larry to Anna. Of course, Dan didn't actually intend for the two of them to meet in person, and their chance encounter at the aquarium was mostly out of his control. However, it's still worth asking why Dan was pretending to be Anna while speaking to men in online chat rooms. One of Dan's biggest problems in both of his relationships is that he wants to possess whoever he's in love with. It's not enough for Dan to be with someone as an equal. He has to have some kind of power or control over the other person. That's why Dan blows up his relationships with Anna and Alice after learning that each of them slept with Larry.

When it comes to Dan's peculiar internet habits, pretending to be Anna is just one more way he feels like he can get control over her. In his mind, Dan can make Anna do anything he wants with anyone he wants when he's using her persona online. The scene where Dan and Larry chat online is definitely the funniest moment of the entire movie, but underneath the comedy is a look at the dark side of Dan's obsessive nature. In the end, it's his obsessiveness that ultimately ruins his chances of saving things with Alice, and the foundations of that moment are laid in scenes like this one.

Why did Anna and Larry get back together?

Dan may not be the nicest guy around, but that doesn't mean Larry gets to be automatically considered a catch. When Larry first meets Anna, he thinks she's come to the aquarium to meet him for sex, so he doesn't introduce himself the way a normal person would. Once Anna pieces together that Dan must have been playing a prank, she and Larry have a good laugh and go on to keep talking to each other. Sex and humor form the basis of their relationship, but Larry also has a darker side.

Larry is a little sex obsessed and sometimes quick to anger, but his biggest flaw — even though it works to his advantage in "Closer" — is that he's manipulative. Larry begs Anna to sleep with him one last time before finalizing their divorce, but later we find out that his real motivation was messing with Dan's head. Larry knew that if he and Anna slept together, Dan wouldn't be able to keep the relationship going.

Larry used sex as a weapon against Dan, but at the same time, he really did love Anna. The biggest difference between Larry and Dan is that Larry doesn't view Anna as something to control or possess. The love between them is genuine, if messy. They get back together because they always had feelings for each other and they figure out that those feelings are more important than everything that happened with Dan.

What lessons were learned?

It can be a little difficult to track everyone's relationship status in "Closer," so here's the general breakdown. Dan starts dating Alice. Anna starts dating Larry. Then Dan and Anna start sleeping together and keep it up even while Anna gets married to Larry. The truth comes out, so everyone breaks up. Dan and Anna start officially dating, but that doesn't last long. Anna gets back together with Larry. Dan gets back together with Alice, but then she leaves him when he won't stop asking if she slept with Larry while they were broken up.

That's enough back and forth for a lifetime, but every twist and turn taken sheds new light on the characters. In the beginning, Dan's obsession with the idea of love is stronger than his loyalty in a relationship. Anna also seemingly falls into that trap, keen on following her heart. Alice, meanwhile, has over-invested in her relationship with Dan and almost completely forgets about herself. Larry lands somewhere in the middle, but he also wants to get one over on Dan from the very beginning.

By the end of the movie, surely some important lessons have been learned? Well, it's hard to say whether or not the characters in "Closer" really learn anything from their experiences. Alice is the only one who seems to change her view on relationships and how to define her self-worth. The others are too locked into their own habits and gut impulses to really grow. At least the audience can learn something from watching their failures play out.

Why did Alice lie to Dan about her name?

"Closer" doesn't really have a twist ending, but the secret of Alice's real name does act as a final surprise in the story. When she first meets Dan, the two of them take a walk through Postman's Park, and before they go their separate ways for the day, she introduces herself as Alice Ayres. Most of us probably didn't think anything of the name, but Larry notices that something is strange when he meets Alice at the strip club where she's working.

At the club, Alice again introduces herself as Alice. Larry demands that she tell him her real name, which she says is Jane. He doesn't believe her, and their argument gets pretty heated. No matter how much Larry yells, Alice keeps insisting that she's not lying to him. It's not until the very end of the movie that the audience learns she really was telling the truth. After Alice finally ends her relationship with Dan, she decides to fly home to New York. When she's moving through customs, the camera shows her passport and reveals that she really is called Jane.

Back in London, a nostalgic Dan decides to take a solo walk back through Postman's Park. While he's making his way along the same path he once walked with Alice, he notices that the park has a small memorial for a woman named Alice Ayres. The revelation shows us that even though she was apparently obsessed with Dan, part of Alice always understood that their relationship could never last.

What will Alice do now?

The ending of "Closer" doesn't leave us with many questions about the characters who are living in London. Larry and Anna have found a way past their differences. They're back together, and, based on the conversation they had when they first split up, are presumably getting ready to have kids. Dan is working as the editor of his newspaper's obituary section. Alice, on the other hand, remains a bit of a mystery at the end of the movie. We know that she tragically dies in the play, but we don't see that play out in the film. As such, viewers are left to guess about what's in store for her.

When she first came to London, Alice seemed like a free spirit who wanted to travel and chase her own passions. In reality, she almost immediately tied herself to Dan and made their relationship the core of her identity. Because of that, we never really got a strong sense of what Alice actually wants for herself in life. Now that she's single and back in New York, there's really no telling what she's going to do. Alice herself might not even have any idea what she wants, but separating herself from Dan has finally given her an opportunity to figure that out. As long as she remembers to look both ways before crossing the road, the future is bright for her by the time the credits roll.

What has the cast and crew said about Closer?

Patrick Marber told The Guardian that he penned the majority of "Closer" on a writers' retreat in Ireland. He first imagined the characters who would later become Alice and Larry after being "dragged along to a lap-dancing club." Eventually, Alice's name came to him in Postman's Park, like in the movie. "When it was shot in London, I experienced the strangeness of there being a movie crew in little Postman's Park," he said. "It's odd how life works out."

In that same interview, Clive Owen opened up about his experience with "Closer." He read the original stage script and thought that it was "such an honest examination of the pain from relationships and what it feels like to be bereft." Owen jumped at the chance to act in a stage production of "Closer," but he didn't get the role he really wanted: Marber thought Owen was too young to play Larry, so he was given the role of Dan instead. Owen finally got to play Larry in the film, which he called "the most incredible gift."

The person who had the biggest influence on the film was late director Mike Nichols. Not only did he get a brilliant performance out of Natalie Portman, who called Nichols "the only older man who mentored me without there ever being a creepy element in it" in a book about his life (via People), but it was reportedly also his idea to change the ending of the movie. According to an Entertainment Weekly report from the time, this big change (presumably removing Alice's death in New York) was a last minute one.