Directed by Anton Corbijn
The Weinstein Company, 2007
By Eva Bowering
Control is one of the most anticipated biopics of the year, next to the upcoming Bob Dylan piece I’m Not There. Both were also filmed in black and white (partially in I’m Not There), and focus on very enigmatic musicians, two men who have clearly altered the way we listen to music, and the culture of popular music in general. Though I have yet to see I’m Not There, even from the trailer I see hope for more creativity than there is in Control.
Directed by famed photographer Anton Corbijn, Control stars Sam Riley as Ian Curtis and Samantha Morton as his wife Deborah. The film is based primarily on Deborah’s memoirs, and if you ask me, that is where the trouble starts. If you are planning to see a movie about Joy Division (as I had hoped) that’s not exactly what you’re going to get. Control is solely based on the life and death of Curtis. And that really sums it up. There is nothing here other than the rise and fall of Ian Curtis. The focus is completely taken away from Joy Division. Instead we are thrown into the love triangle between Curtis, his mistress Annik (played by Alexandra Maria Lara), and his almost ex-wife Deborah and their child.
If you had no clue Ian Curtis committed suicide at the age of 23, or if you completely overlooked 24 Hour Party People, which manages to sum Joy Division up a million times better than this movie does, perhaps you’d be surprised the ending. But I don’t know who those people are, or why they’d be interested in this film. Control manages to completely overlook both the band and the legendary Tony Wilson. The latter is featured like some sort of prop or puppet throughout, which makes one wonder if Wilson, who was briefly involved with this film’s production before his death, is rolling in his grave at the completed product. Not only is Wilson overlooked, but Factory records and the entire Manchester scene are non-existent save for a few club scenes. Curtis’s musical and lyrical processes barely get any play at all. Yes, Curtis was the soul of Joy Division, there is no doubt about that. He deserves an incredible amount of respect as the singer/songwriter of Joy Division, not because he committed suicide. Which begs the question of why Corbijn would make this film in the first place, and completely ignore that all together.
Despite some superb acting, Riley’s uncanny resemblance to Curtis, and the impressive fact that the actors learned to play and perform these Joy Division songs excellently themselves, Curtis’s life is exploited for all it’s worth. It is immensely glorified, right down to the intimacies with his wife. There is a scene where in the middle of sex, they show him break down crying. Why do we need to know just how depressed Curtis was? The film offers no answer, other than the shock value. The story does take time to focus on his struggle with epilepsy, as well as the multitudes of drugs he had to take to help battle the seizures. This all raises interesting questions about how it all probably deepened his depression. Yet, the film really goes nowhere else. It ends up signifying nothing other than a foreshadowing of his death, which we all know is going to happen anyway.
One last point, where are Deborah and Natalie today? His daughter is in her late twenties by now and despite the memoir, no one really knows anything about Deborah Curtis or her daughter. Had the film ventured off into this territory, it probably would have been a much better feature.