A life out of control
Peter Bradshaw, one of the film critics at The Guardian, said about Control that there’s a roar of energy in it. “I thought it might depress me. Instead I left the cinema walking on air”.
I would be tempted to ask what he had been smoking, or rather, considering some of the content of the movie, what medication he was on, but I won’t. We all respond differently to movies and perhaps he was just a fan of Joy Division who got a huge kick out of hearing all those songs again.
My own reaction to this film, which follows Ian Curtis’ life from 1973 to 1980, ending with his suicide at age 23, was quite the opposite.
I couldn’t have been more drained of energy if I just had been kissed by a dementor.
As I was contemplating the final shot – black smoke drifting up in the sky from a crematory building – I search for something to say to my 17 year daughter who had joined me in the watching. We needed something to bring us back to a sunnier valley than the one we’d been exploring the last two hours. But I couldn’t come up with anything. “Well, that was depressing.” I blurted out finally. “Yeah, it was”, she replied, adding: “But good.” And to that I nodded in agreement. Then we sank back to silence.
Keeping a distance
I kept thinking about Ian Curtis. About his issues – his broken family life, the epilepsy, his unhappiness that just increased as his band got more successful. Out of control of his life he took control over the only remaining thing that he thought he could control – the decision to put an end to it. And I thought about the people that were left behind – his wife Deborah, their one year old daughter and his other woman Annik. An ocean of sadness. I tried to keep a little bit of distance between the water and me. Observing, but not making their sadness into my own. I let it lick my toes. But no further than that.
The film had done the same thing: kept a bit of distance. Or perhaps it was Ian Curtis who kept the distance to everyone. Was there ever anyone on the world that really knew him (to the extent it’s possible to know someone else)?
We never get close. But perhaps we get a tiny little bit closer. At least we get to see different sides of Ian Curtis.
He wasn’t just that stereotypical rock icon who lives hard and dies young. The film shows him at his work at an employment agency, a job he seemed to be doing pretty well until the double job with increasing amounts of nightly gigs got too much for him to handle. We see at the hospital when his daughter is born, aware of the duties of a father, but at the same time terrified like a little boy, wanting to escape from it all. While we don’t get into his mind, apart from what he shares in the song texts, at least we see that his life was more than just what took place on stage.
I loved Control.
I loved it for refraining from being a shallow celebration of an icon, for not romanticizing anything, for not contributing to the kind of myth that young fans of rock stars who commit suicide love to nourish. It’s all in black and white, but the shades of gray are so many that you one moment find yourself muttering “what a bastard” when he lies to his wife and the next moment you feel sorry for him for being tore apart by love, unable to choose, unable to live with it and without it.
I loved it because Sam Riley is so jawdroppingly excellent as Ian Curtis. Well, actually the entire band is excellent. Instead of just playing the original recordings with Joy Division, they let the actors perform as the band, and they do it so well that it’s hard to believe that this is just actors and that James Anthony Pearson, who plays the guitarist, learned to play the instrument in two months, just because of the movie.
I loved it because it’s so beautifully shot, in a style that fits the music and the content just perfectly. There are YouTube clips showing the original Joy Division playing in color television, but that doesn’t look half as good and fitting as this movie. I suppose it was expected, considering that the director Anton Corbijn before this debut movie made a career as a photographer.
Taking a deep breath
Not all movies make you leave the theatre walking on air. Some movies make you grasp for air. You can still love them.
Finally I rose from the couch and opened the door to the garden. I heard a blackbird singing in the far distance. Darkness had fallen and I could barely discern the big ash tree that guards, shades and trashes our garden in equal proportions. But I felt its presence and I took a deep breath and I suddenly realized how grateful I am to still be in the land of the living.
My life may or may not be under control. Regardless of which, I think I can manage.
Control (Anton Corbijn, UK, 2007) My rating: 4,5/5