The Flick Chicks

Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Control

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Jacqueline Monahan

Control

Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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ni•hil•ism –noun
total and absolute destructiveness, esp. toward the world at large and including oneself; an extreme form of skepticism: the denial of all real existence or the possibility of an objective basis for truth; annihilation of the self; (Dictionary.com)

The war cry of disaffected youth everywhere, the punk and post-punk era was full of examples of nihilism in all of its pessimistic glory. Ripped and pinned clothing, the advent of savage piercings, Armageddon hair and makeup, dances that were more like battlefields, excesses of drink and drugs in a primal state, music raw and shriek-like or pensive and depressing. You won’t find motivational messages or pressed pants, just pissed off progeny wanting to violently interact in music and dance. Many of us made it out alive. Ian Curtis of Joy Division did not. Control is his story.

Anton Corbijn’s monochromatic bio-pic retains a bleakness of dreary Manchester life, Macclesfield to be exact, and gives off a foreshadowing essence of depression and despair. Already disenfranchised at the age of 17, Curtis (Sam Riley) retreats to his tiny room and his music (Bowie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop). In short order, the pensive lad is fronting a band called Warsaw, later renamed Joy Division (a cruel, ironic reference to forced brothels in WWII prison camps. See 1964’s The Pawn Broker for a look at how joyful it was).

Curtis has a girlfriend named Deborah (Samantha Morton) who he impulsively weds and impregnates (all his idea). At the age of 19, Curtis is a singer by night and a civil servant by day. Finding employment for the physically and mentally challenged seems to lead to several life observations, mainly that it’s not worth living. Even burgeoning fame and recording contracts seem to worsen the moodiness instead of lift it. Then there are the sudden epileptic fits and draconian prescription drug protocols to contend with. Curtis feels only the burden of his responsibilities, not the love of his wife or daughter, whom he doesn’t want but cannot leave. A seductive Belgian reporter, Annick Honore, (Alexandra Maria Lara) unburdened by commitment herself, seduces Curtis, adding even more torment to his life.

Daughter Natalie makes him realize how much of a bad dad he is, taking no pleasure anywhere; not in his child, not on stage, not even in his lover’s arms. Causing pain, feeling pain, and fearful of impending pain, Curtis finds his own final solution, in keeping with the band’s decidedly WWII theme: Warsaw, Joy Division and ultimately post-Curtis, New Order.

The inevitable happens on May18,1980, when the tormented poet and vocalist ends his life in the kitchen of his flat, making a mess and leaving it for his wife to clean up. Even an unconventional marriage has some things in common with ordinary life.

Control is based on the book, Touching from a Distance (1996) by his widow Deborah Curtis who also produced the film.

Veteran rock photographer and video music director Anton Corbijn directs in a straightforward, linear fashion with stunning cinematography by Martin Ruhe. It’s like viewing a collection of black and white stills, covering the Curtis character, with all others in supporting roles, even the entire band, Joy Division. The title is from one of their songs, She’s Lost Control, written by Curtis after witnessing an epileptic fit during a client interview. Perhaps fearful of the same unreliable fate, Curtis thought he was regaining control when he stopped his own ride prematurely.

This film reached me on a personal level. It was college, cigarettes, maroon hair, makeup applied like a bruise. It was pensive bass-driven songs like Isolation and Love will Tear us Apart. Corbijn has captured an era for me and I thank him for the cinematic time machine.

Selections from Joy Division’s two albums, 1979’s Unknown Pleasures and 1980’s Closer (produced posthumously) are played in semi-performance/concert mode. Sex Pistols and Buzzcocks music, both strong influences, can be heard in the background several times. A performance of the band’s song Transmission features a flailing, spastic Riley in a near-perfect reproduction of a Curtis presentation, the original being even more convulsive in his movements. A current equivalent is R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe. Watching him, you’ll realize Joy Division’s influence (Nine Inch Nails, too).

Members of the band, window dressing really, are Bernard Sumner (James Anthony Pearson), Peter Hook, (Joe Anderson) and Stephen Morris (Harry Treadaway). Manager Rob Gretton (Toby Kebbel) and record executive Tony Wilson (Craig Parkinson) get to put their two cents in once in a while.

Samantha Morton’s broad Manchester accent blends right in to the dreariness. She delivers an admirable portrayal of the bewildered and terribly betrayed Deborah, sadness overtaking bitterness at every turn.

Sam Riley transmits a melancholy and faraway look into the complex, tragic, self-indulgent, irresponsible (but guilty about it) Ian Curtis. He channels Curtis down to the spastic performances and haunting, introspective (and sometimes maddening) vacant stares. Is it apathy or too deep a delve into a flawed psyche? The viewer is left to wonder. Some will get why the singer was so tormented, but many will not. Corbijn nails it for those who were there. Perhaps a bit long, the film ends with yet another Nazi reference, smoke from a crematorium. New Order indeed.