Ian Curtis was only 23 when he hung himself in the kitchen of his wife's house on May 18th, 1980 in Manchester, England. His band, Joy Division, had been only responsible for one album, 1979's Unknown Pleasures, while the finishing touches were being put on the second, 1980's Closer. These two pesky albums, along with a single "Love Will Tear Us Apart," would constitute posthumous fandom unlike anyone could have imagined. Both Pleasures and Closer were futuristic pieces of musical intrigue that ignored the nostalgia boasted by the bands that influenced them; Bowie and Iggy Pop sure looked futuristic, but their music was only somewhat forward-looking. Uniformly, Anton Corbijn
's Control's ostentatious demeanor belies a somewhat routine ponderance of Curtis' abruptly interrupted popularity.
When we first come across Curtis (a well-researched Sam Riley
), he is rushing home with a copy of Aladdin Sane under his arm. Like any experimental teen of that era, he dances and contorts in androgynous bliss while his parents quietly read the paper and prepare dinner in the other room. His quick courtship and marriage to Deborah (the consummate Samantha Morton
) quickly sticks him in a go-nowhere house with a go-nowhere job at an employment office. Curtis, like most of England, gets a kick in the knickers when he hears The Sex Pistols for the first time, immediately walking into the street and inquiring whether his friends still need a singer for their band Warsaw. Article continues below
There are moments that will make any Division fan wince. In a long take, Deborah and Ian walk down a street, passive aggressively hassling each other until Ian comes out and says that he doesn't think he loves her anymore; cue "Love Will Tear Us Apart." Not to mention hearing "Atmosphere" played for the umpteenth time to signal Curtis' demise: an eye-rollable offense. An attempt at finding Curtis' final reasoning is a fool's errand that Corbijn can't help but fall for, but for every scene of inescapable creation and familial bickering, there are also moments of devastating solitude that Corbijn, a famed photographer, captures acutely.
Shot beautifully by promising cinematographer Martin Ruhe, Control's first half has a more rambunctious energy that eventually fizzles out. Corbijn invests the early rumblings of the band with humor and fetishized moments of production. The band incapable of doing anything but farting before their first gig is especially ingenious, but Corbijn's staggering recreation of the band's first appearance on Tony Wilson's show playing "Transmission" is easily distinguishable as the film's peak.
Altogether, Control distances itself from the fray but it also can't distinguish itself as a substantial foot forward. Corbijn, a friend of the band in his early days, doesn't address the mythology of Curtis, in turn disregarding his importance and relegating him only to the moments of personal anguish that every Division fan already knows about (his seizures, his affair with a journalist). By defining him by the same actions as any other music legend, Corbijn commits the crime of turning Curtis into just another music legend.