March 5, 2008 -- There is something about dying young that draws filmmakers to the story like moths to a flame. Young suicides are even better. Filmmakers seem to have an almost self-destructive desire to portray suicide as an attractive alternative to living. The types of characters who commit suicide in films like “Control,” “The Virgin Suicides” and “The Dead Poets Society,” and too many other similar films are attractive, intelligent, sensitive, artistic and of high moral character. In short, they are perfect role models for young people who might be thinking about committing suicide themselves.
In these kinds of films, suicide is painless. It comes near the end of the film. Parents, wives, children and other relatives and friends are not shown as victims of a lifetime of pain and guilt as the result of the terrible selfishness of suicide. These things are seldom seen in movies. More often, suicide is shown as something almost noble. It is disgusting, this noble portrayal of suicide. It is no such thing.
Anyway, that is what the film “Control” is all about. It is all about burning bright, dying young and leaving a beautiful corpse. It is hard to feel sorry for Ian Curtis (played by Sam Riley of “24 Hour Party People”), who kills himself because of the pain he suffers from being a successful rock and roll lead singer for the English band Joy Division. A lot of people, myself included, would love that kind of pain and suffering, or at least we'd be willing to endure it for the money and sex. Apparently, Curtis died before becoming rich, but he was on the verge of getting rich (Joy Division was getting ready to leave on an American tour), and he was already getting hot sex from the lovely journalist-groupie Annik Honoré (Alexandra Maria Lara), as well as from his young wife, Deborah (played by Samantha Morton of “In America”). When Deborah finds out about Ian's affair with Annik, she threatens him with divorce. He was still dithering about what to do about that, when he killed himself. Problem solved.
Ian Curtis also suffered from epilepsy and was on multiple anti-seizure medications when he died. He was also mixing these medications with alcohol, against his doctor's directions. This certainly was a contributing factor in his demise. I'm a little more familiar with this than most people, having been on anti-seizure medication myself for a couple of years early in this decade. It is worth noting that the new medications are better than the ones used back in the time of this movie (late 1970s to 1980) and they are better targeted. A diagnosis of epilepsy is not as serious a medical matter now as it was then. In the film, epilepsy is portrayed as a kind of death sentence, another excuse for suicide. If that portrayal was ever justified, it isn't anymore.
Sam Riley does a wonderful job of portraying Curtis, and Samantha Morton is equally good in her portrayal of Deborah Curtis. Some of Riley's musical performances are electrifying, giving us a glimpse of what Joy Division was (The band on the screen is also the band on the soundtrack. These guys, Riley, Joe Anderson, James Anthony Pearson, and Harry Treadaway can play music as well as they act.). Riley is also convincing at depicting Curtis' dark moods and anguish. The black and white cinematography of the film is haunting and stark in its documentary-like realism. This would not be a bad film at all except for the infuriatingly romantic portrayal of suicide. The other problem is that Sam Riley's short life is not all that interesting. Maybe his music was interesting, but his life was not really all that remarkable. It might have been had he lived another 10 years or more. This film rates a C+.
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