the three cents.
The 2007 biopic of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis is a bleak and harrowing portrayal of what has become a small yet nonetheless iconic chapter in rock history, the brief life of a desperation unchecked. A film adaptation of Touching From a Distance, the book written by widow Deborah Curtis (mother of Ian’s daughter Natalie) and directed by longtime Joy Division supporter Anton Corbijn in his feature-length film directorial debut, Control features Sam Riley as Ian Curtis in what is not only a breakthrough performance but a career defining performance as well. He will likely be living with the role, and living it down, for the rest of his days.
Never able to break his leash to his lower middle class roots, poetry guides the young Curtis into the realm of creative expression. Joy Division slowly finds its persona as Curtis and Deborah marry too young, with the two worlds then shouldered stormily and separately, of a wanted quiet blue collar existence with the needed growing demands of fronting an original and compelling band. The balance proves too much for Curtis, as he also contends with declining physical health and a love triangle which proves emotionally devastating to all participants. An interesting observation is made in the film, of the clear cut aesthetic difference between creating something very particular with being pulled into a claustrophobic system where such an act of creation is expected to assembly line its way into unrealistic continuation. Identity is always spread thin, and in the case of Ian Curtis especially the costs are also made clear.
Co-starring Samantha Morton (who is just irresistibly heartbreaking in every role she takes on) as Deborah Curtis, Control is beautifully shot in black and white, allowing the millions of shades of gray to simultaneously construct and deconstruct this story that serves as both cautionary tale regarding the consequences of a Capitalism controlled Art, as well as the more intimate story of a young man who, despite intelligence and good intentions, failed miserably at affecting control over his own life.
The noted music critic Simon Reynolds once said that Curtis’ suicide “made for instant myth”. He also has said that Joy Division’s success “drew a devoted following nicknamed the “Cult With No Name”, who were stereotyped as “intense young men dressed in gray overcoats”. A curiously troubling thing about public perception is that persons elevated to painfully social status can be dehumanized into archetypal roles. No matter the nature or source of celebrity, many look up to the celebrated as a leader or teacher or trendsetter. The theologian Alan Watts however, has before expressed the dire need our culture has of trying to suckle the finger that is actually pointing the way to salvation. As such, Corbijn brilliantly succeeds in showing that regardless of his personal faults and triumphs, Curtis himself is in fact a flawed hero and by no means deserving of cult-hero labeling. But the words Curtis wrote and sang, are much more powerfully indicative in rightfully expressing fears which anyone victim of this overly progressive modern age can identify with and learn from. Instead of hearing the messenger out, we hung him, and so his private failures are very much representative of the shortcomings inherent to our own publicly as a society.
Great movie and one I obviously recommend.