Closet Land

  • 1991
  • Movie
  • R
  • Drama, Political

Despite Alan Rickman's bravura performance, CLOSET LAND, written and directed by Radha Bharadwaj, is an overly theatrical analysis of police state repression. The film starts off realistically enough, with a dark screen simulating the point-of-view of a blindfolded and handcuffed female prisoner (Madeleine Stowe). Her complaints are answered by a cultured,...read more

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Despite Alan Rickman's bravura performance, CLOSET LAND, written and directed by Radha Bharadwaj, is an overly theatrical analysis of police state repression.

The film starts off realistically enough, with a dark screen simulating the point-of-view of a blindfolded and handcuffed female prisoner (Madeleine Stowe). Her complaints are answered by a cultured, sympathetic voice, followed by a coarser, tougher voice ridiculing the former's concern. When her

blindfold is removed, she beholds a bespectacled, sandy-haired man (Alan Rickman), looking both concerned and curious, who takes note of the captive woman's objections to her late night arrest and rough treatment at the guards' hands. She protests that she is only a writer of children's books, to

which he responds quickly, "You can do anything with a child, as long as you play with him." He then challenges her to identify the quote. "Bismarck," she replies.

Apologetically, he offers to let her go and gestures toward the stylized double doors, but, as she nears them, he suggests she wait for the official letter of apology. When she returns to her seat, he gallantly offers her his jacket and a cup of rum-laced broth and starts to reminisce about one

of her book signings he had attended. When she expresses scorn, he accuses her of hallucinating and starts to discuss her unpublished novel, Closet Land.

It is, ostensibly, the story of a girl who, locked in a clothes closet by her mother, fantasizes that the various garments become friendly animal playmates. The interrogator muses that closets are the places for skeletons, secrets and conspiracies. Psychologically he is correct, since we see in

her flashbacks that the closet is indeed an ominous symbol, a symbol it is his job to interpret as a self-pronounced "seeker after the truth" (a nice-sounding term for an officer of a state's secret police).

In keeping with his civilized veneer, the interrogator expresses dismay over such excesses as forcing his prisoner to wear black lingerie and garish makeup, part of her enforced psychological role playing. Later, he blindfolds her again and impersonates both a coarse tormentor and a tortured

fellow-prisoner, but either foolishly allows her to discover his ruse or does so in order to anger her and then justify the actual torture he had feigned earlier. As her only defense against this physical abuse, she retreats into an imaginary world where a winged cat allows her to escape.

Alternating with the physical torture is a modified brainwashing technique, performed by bored medical technicians who discuss their family weekends as they prepare her for the effort to convert her to the government's side. Of course it fails, and the interrogator must resort to the removal of

her toenail with a pair of pliers. When this too, fails, he must employ a more psychoanalytical method to join with her in the "closet land" that has protected her psyche and kept her resistance intact.

In this way we discover that as a child of five she was molested by her mother's lover in the clothes closet, something her mother failed to notice, leading to the child's disaffection in later years. Matters are complicated by the suggestion that the molester and her current tormentor are one

and the same. In her extended monologue, she draws an analogy between child molestion and political repression.

Offered one more chance to sign a confession that the interrogator himself calls a pack of lies, she refuses and is led out, presumably to be shot. As her image dissolves into blinding light, an intertitle, drawn from the words of Ghandi, reminds viewers that half the world's governments torture

their own citizenry.

Despite a splendid performance by Rickman, who can be intellectually cool, diffident or cruel, CLOSET LAND suffers from far too much artistic atmosphere. The torture cell resembles a cross between a classical set and a fancy boutique, especially in light of the designs supplied by world-famous

designer Eiko Ishioka. The writer, as portrayed by Madeline Stowe, may be a trifle too heroic, especially since all the factual writings about police-state methods since Arthur Koestler and George Orwell emphasize that, given unlimited time and methods, nobody can last. It is the interrogator who

emerges as the more interesting of the pair, particularly with the hints of his past. The basic analogy about child molestation seems strained; the scant difference in their years suggests that it is not the same man. Still, CLOSET LAND does have a certain fascination as a piece of theater and an

intellectual exercise on a pressing political issue. (Violence, profanity, adult situations)

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  • Released: 1991
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Despite Alan Rickman's bravura performance, CLOSET LAND, written and directed by Radha Bharadwaj, is an overly theatrical analysis of police state repression. The film starts off realistically enough, with a dark screen simulating the point-of-view of a… (more)

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