The music video was directed by Mark Romanek and first aired on May 12, 1994, having been filmed in April of that year. It was cut down from its original length to 4:36. The video was popular and helped bolster the success of the band. The video shows events in what appears to be a 19th century-style mad-scientist’s laboratory that deal with religion, sexuality, animal cruelty, politics, and terror. It was somewhat controversial due to its imagery, which included a nude woman with a crucifix mask, a monkey tied to a cross, a pig’s head spinning on some type of machine, a diagram of a vulva, and Reznor wearing an S&M mask while swinging in shackles. Several times, Reznor, wearing leather pants, floats and rotates through the air, suspended by invisible wires. There are also scenes of Reznor wearing aviator goggles being blown back by a wind machine.
These images seem to be inspired by the art of Joel-Peter Witkin. The video is also very heavily inspired by the Brothers Quay film Street of Crocodiles, with much of the video being a live-action recreation of the sets and scenes from that film. For the television version, certain removed scenes were replaced with a title card that read “Scene Missing,” and the instances of the word “fuck” being edited out were accompanied by a stop in the video motion, making it appear as if the stop was a result of defective film (this was done to make sure the flow of the song was not affected). The video has a stylized, old-film look due to Reznor purchasing an old canister of unexposed film from the early part of the 20th century to record it on. It is also one of two videos directed by Romanek that the Museum of Modern Art has added to its permanent collection. The other is Madonna’s “Bedtime Story”.
The unedited version of this video was shown on Playboy TV’s music video show Hot Rocks in 1994. In mid-2002, the unedited version of this video was aired on MTV2 as part of a special countdown showcasing the most controversial videos ever to air on MTV. This countdown was only shown late at night due to the graphic imagery of “Closer” and several other videos.
In 2006, “Closer” was voted number one in a VH1 Classic poll titled “20 Greatest Music Videos of All Time.”
In retrospect, Reznor commented about the video that “The rarest of things occurred: where the song sounded better to me, seeing it with the video. And it’s my song.” –Wikipedia
One of the most prolific and visionary music video directors of the 1990s and early 21st century, Mark Romanek was a writer and filmmaker whose unique and often disturbing visual style helped to pave the way for his subsequent work in feature films. After serving briefly under Brian De Palma, he broke into the burgeoning music video field in the late 1980s, quickly establishing himself through videos for artists ranging from Beck and Fiona Apple to Johnny Cash and Michael Jackson. Romanek’s videos were lushly filmed, filled with intimate and often provocative images, and on occasion, controversial, as the perverse visions in his clip for Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” proved. The acclaim over his video work led to numerous commercial spots as well as one feature-length film, the chilly psycho-thriller One Hour Photo (2002). The film’s moderate success lent to many other announced projects, none of which came to fruition; however, his status as one of the most talented filmmakers… read more
Put "Street of Crocodiles" by the Brothers Quay, Joel-Peter Witkin, Francis Bacon, and anal beads into a blender and the resulting prurient ooze is this video. It's still one of the greatest videos ever made, so long as you realize that it owes as much to other artists as to Romanek's own ideas.