In 2008, filmmaker Karen Guthrie and her mother Ann Guthrie decided to make a documentary about their family. Despite being in Ann’s words ‘rivetingly normal’, they both knew their story was anything but. Weeks later, Ann sadly suffered a near-fatal stroke which left her severely physically disabled. But Ann would not be stopped by this, and continued to make the film with Karen – her unparalleled, strong spirit being the driving force of this beautiful documentary.
The film begins as an almost fly-on-the-wall snapshot of an ordinary family going about their life. We’re slowly introduced to the wider family – brothers, sisters and most importantly Karen’s father, Ian Guthrie, join in on what begins as day-to-day minutiae. But as The Closer We Get goes on, the more we learn about the Guthrie family, and the more we realise just why Karen and Ann wanted their story to be known. To reveal the ‘twists’ as it were would be to spoil a large amount of the film’s impact, but The Closer We Get is not what it first appears. Whilst there is nobody in this family that you could consider a villain, as perhaps you would in Capturing the Friedmans or The Imposter, there are certainly individuals who you might side against because of choices they have made and things they have done. This structure lends itself to the film’s strong sense of narrative, despite being of the documentary genre. The Closer We Get tells a sweeping story over many years through the use of old home videos, photographs, interviews and gentle, understated narration from Karen. With subtly strong cinematography and a beautiful score from Malcolm Middleton, The Closer We Get often doesn’t feel like documentary.
The main theme is family. Karen’s undeniable honesty and blatancy when recalling her family’s history is the film’s true power, inviting the viewer into the household in such a way that makes us feel like old family friends. Most families would probably want to hide these problems away but the Guthrie family’s bravery in showing the reality of the situation, while even telling us their troubled past, is extremely refreshing and inspiring. These people aren’t trying to impress, nor make any point as such. Aside from a comment from Ian about the constant filming meaning there is ‘no privacy anymore’, the family don’t even seem to notice they’re being filmed. This creates a natural realism that makes spending a couple of hours with the Guthrie family seem like you’re not even watching a film. You are right there, in the house with the brave and beautiful Ann, the gentle and kind Karen and the endearingly grumpy Ian. And strangely, it feels like home.
The Closer We Get is a story about life, loyalty, family and love. Karen Guthrie has crafted a beautiful piece of work that will make you laugh, cry and ultimately realise what is truly important – living.