movie review :: control
the idea of making a film about joy division strikes me as odd. the band's appeal lies in their unfathomable mystery, some magic that others could feel, even if they couldn't explain it. the sheer diversity of joy division fans, and i count myself as one, is testimony that there is some validity to that. outside of the post-glam, post-punk context of the band, there is something inexplicable about them.
thankfully, director anton corbin- an avid joy division fan and chronicler himself- is aware of this. every scene in his biopic of joy division's lead singer ian curtis (and the film is about curtis, not the band as a unit) is suffused with the same atmosphere and aesthetic as the band's albums and videos- restrained, melancholy, emotional.
curtis' story is almost pedestrian on the one hand: far from dreaming of rock stardom, he was an exceptionally average (oxymoron alert!) teenager who listened to music (bowie, the stooges, etc.), wrote poetry, smoked, did some drugs and, eventually, married his high school sweetheart and started a government job. his ascent to icon status seemed unexpected, and, for all concerned, perplexing.
the title of the film is an important "tell" on its perspective. even as he met with success in the various areas of his life, control seems to be the one thing that ian curtis was never able to feel. he at first went through the expected motions of a young man in his social situation and then became driven by the band and the lifestyle that went along with it, while never feeling comfortable in either. curtis had little control over his job, his fame, his money, his emotions and, eventually, even his own body, which fell prey to increasingly disturbing epileptic seizures. viewed in that light, his eventual suicide seems not only sad, but inevitable.
as a result, the film is unrepentant in its bleakness, but wrapped in a beautiful soundtrack. which is not a bad description of joy division. corbin's most deft move as a director- and this is saying something, because he shows a phenomenal attention to detail throughout- is that he relies on joy division's music to form a sort of ancillary script. rather than trying to explain the appeal of the band or the reactions to their music, he gives plenty of time for the music to be heard. this is risky- it undoubtedly alienates people who aren't joy division fans- but it is really the only way to communicate what was so special about them without falling into the trap of over-explaining.
the film does at times become a little heavy-handed (it would have been stronger without the "hypnotism" scene intended to drive home points that were already well made), but overall maintains a sort of dignity that does the band and ian curtis proud.