Movie Review: Control
Like Jim Morrison before him, Ian Curtis exists in the mind's eye as more of an idea than a real person. Certainly, his early death contributes mightily to this perception. Anton Corbijn's Control, however, rescues him from the murky fog of legend and restores him to a state of full humanity. It is, simply, a remarkable film, as much for what it is as for what it is not. It resists the temptation towards the high, operatic drama that infects so many biographies, creating instead a brilliantly elliptical portrait of a troubled, gifted man.
When we first meet Ian Curtis in the film, he's a typical, Bowie-obsessed English lad of the early 70's. Perhaps he's a bit more curious and introspective than most, but not unusually so. He meets a girl named Debbie, quickly falls in love and marries her, and they begin leading a peaceful, normal life. Ian works in an employment office by day, and he and Debbie go to clubs at night to hear nascent bands like the Sex Pistols perform. One evening, though, Providence intervenes. Ian runs into some friends who need a singer for their band.
That band would ultimately be called Joy Division, one of the pioneers of the post-punk era. It is to the great credit of Control, however, that this heady future is never apparent in the film we see. Its concern is purely with the music these men made and the great difficulty that life and love would ultimately present to its doomed singer, Curtis. As Curtis, newcomer Sam Riley is nothing short of revelatory. When he is on stage--arms flailing, sonorous baritone emptying itself into the microphone--we see a rare, perfect fusion of performer and role.
It is an equally auspicious debut for director Anton Corbijn. A veteran of countless photo shoots and music videos, Corbijn does an amazing job of creating an atmosphere so subtle and true that the film almost plays like a documentary. A daring choice to shoot in black and white adds a crucial texture to Control--not only are the images beautiful, but they perfectly mirror the somber conflict within Curtis himself. In a film where every actor seems ideally cast, where every scene is unexpectedly rich--great credit must go to the director.
Control does not attempt to completely answer why Curtis chose to end his life at only 23. The film presents all of the usual theories--Curtis was caught between two intractable love relationships, he was deeply frustrated by his increasingly violent epileptic seizures, he was simply a depressed, overwhelmed man. Ultimately, though, it may be that we find the best answer in Sam Riley's performance. In his tearful, haunted gaze it seems obvious that there was a sadness and a weariness in Curtis that he simply could not overcome.
Photos courtesy of The Weinstein Company