Control is the stark, solemn biopic about Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis. While Curtis’s lyrics were haunting and his suicide at age 23 tragic, his life does not really lend itself to an entire film.
Control starts, briefly, in high school, where Curtis meets his soon-to-be bride Debbie. The two are married while still in their teens, just before he joins the band Warsaw (later to be named Joy Division). The film focuses more on his rocky relationship with his wife than his musical career. While touring, Ian meets a young Belgian girl, Annik, and falls in love with her. He is tortured that he can’t choose between the two women. This proves to be the only conflict in the film, and there is not much of it at that. Annik is largely a background character, and Ian just quietly mopes between the two women.
The film is based on Debbie’s own memoirs, which seems to “sanitize” the portrayal of Ian. He comes across as being somberly romantic, with no attempt made to explore his darkness, which troubles him long before his love triangle or being diagnosed as epileptic (not easily treatable back then). Plus, it really irks me that the filmmakers “cleaned up” the meaning of the term Joy Division. In the film, Ian explains that it is a term for a German brothel. More specifically, Joy Divisions were sections of Nazi concentration camps where Jewish women were held as sex slaves for the pleasure of Nazi guards.
The film is shot in black and white, with beautifully composed frames. Even if the story is slow, it is a delight to watch. The performances are great. It is tough to step into the shoes of such an enigmatic person as Ian Curtis, but actor Sam Riley does so with aplomb. His voice cannot come close to Curtis’s deep and utterly unique voice, but he has the mannerisms down. While performing “Dead Souls,” it came out far more Trent Reznor than Ian Curtis. The filmmakers were wise enough to use the original recording of “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Joy Division's best-known song. Besides Joy Division, the fantastic soundtrack also makes use of songs by David Bowie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Sex Pistols, and The Buzzcocks.