At the Cinema: Control

"Control" is a band biopic, a love story, a tragedy. It is uber director Anton Corbijn's homage to and interpretation of the myth of Joy Division, a stark black and white opus powerful in its bleak austerity. Mostly, it is the story of Ian Curtis, whose tragically brief story is fairly well-known at this point, though Corbijn's thoughtful flick gives new insight into the troubled, doomed Curtis.

"Control" is a fitting name for the film, because in addition to the song "She's Lost Control" being one of Joy Division's best-known songs, the theme of control is central. Be it Ian's control over his destiny, his lack of control over his health and his fate, the control Curtis' familial obligations have over him as his story unfolds, and ultimately the lack of control anyone has in saving Curtis from himself.

We first see Curtis, played brilliantly by Sam Riley, as a teenager, nicking pills from elderly ladies and swanning about in his bedroom to David Bowie. After proposing in a sun-dappled pastoral scene, young Ian marries his school sweetheart Debbie (Samantha Morton), and they move into a small house together. At this point, the movie sunlit and bright, as was Curtis' future. Inevitably, darkness begins creeping in with Ian's diagnosis of epilepsy and subsequent prescription-related problems. Cracks also appear in Ian and Debbie's marriage, despite the birth of a daughter. Curtis meets and falls in love with Belgian fanzine writer Annik, who seems to represent the opposite of Ian's safe, predictable life in gray Macclesfield. As with most, this love triangle doesn't end well.

It's all there, Joy Division's first television appearance, the contract with Factory Records written in blood by Tony Wilson, the announcement of the U.S. tour, and Curtis' dark final few hours watching Werner Herzog. But in addition to what we already knew, Corbijn deftly presents a portrait of an artist as a young man, a troubled soul in turmoil, and a gifted singer with incredible talent. It's an incredibly sad story, and the glimpses of happiness are rendered that much more acute when pitted against so much gloom and doom. It's perfectly acted, perfectly shot, and just about flat-out perfect. "Closer" is a must for anyone who loves Joy Division, and pretty much anyone who likes great movies. If you're anything like me, though, make sure you've got some tissues handy.


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