***Cross-posted at Good News Film Reviews***
Should I see it?
Yes - if this is your thing.
Should I see it?
Yes - if this is your thing.
Short Review: Here's a shocker, a musician who's a depressive and selfish jerk. Wow, that's so unique, we better make a movie about him.
I've never been interested in Joy Division's music and never had much need to know anything about them. I come to this movie as a completely disinterested party. Actually, that's not true, as someone who has seen a lot of movies, I did come to this with the hope that this wasn't going to be yet another self-absorbed jackass who finds success and then destroys his life just like Walk the Line, Ray, The Doors, and Sid & Nancy. Although I liked these movies, they tend to be very predictable, overly sympathetic to the artist and just plain depressing. This movie sticks to the template but cuts out the sympathy. This is a predictable film for anyone with cursory knowledge of English pop culture, Curtis has been dead for 28 years now, we know how this is going to end. Where this film breaks from the crowd is in its warts-and-all look at the man. Where Walk the Line and Ray are splashy, epic feeling odes, this is a gritty examination of the artistic mind and the often dark results it produces.
The film follows the rise and abrupt fall of Joy Division's front man Ian Curtis. Curtis is a mopey fellow with a haunting voice. As his band climbs through the ranks for the Manchester music scene, he hastily marries his girlfriend Deborah. Like clockwork, as Ian's fortunes rise, his marriage falls apart. This collapse is plain to see given the two appear to be far to immature when they tie the knot and Curtis is obviously too selfish to be in a relationship. They crank out out a child and the pressures of life begin to weigh the singer down. On top of this, he is stricken with epilepsy which intrudes on his band's live performances as well as his private life.
The implosion of Ian Curtis is reminiscent of Jim Morrison in many ways. Both were deeply selfish men who were spurred on by their associates and fans. Both preferred to look through the back end of life instead of trying to see anything actually beautiful in existence. Both cruelly tormented those who loved them. And both could have been spared their fate by getting some help. Director Anton Corbijn (known for his work making videos for U2 and Depeche Mode) does well to connect Curtis to the pantheon of rock stars. He clearly lines Curtis up with the likes of Morrison, David Bowie and Lou Reed and the film is very successful at establishing Joy Division's worth. He also does a fantastic job at getting at the sorrowful man's private life and choices. The film doesn't give Curtis any sympathy at all, in fact, he comes off as a horrible person, not for who he is but the ultimate choices he makes. Again and again, he is given a chance to be redeemed , to be something - to live for someone other than himself. In his depressive stupor, he keeps choosing to feed his own needs and eventually finds himself completely isolated. Corbijn, in his feature debut, handles the subject with a gentle but unflinching hand and gives us a film that, while a little slow, is nonetheless enthralling.
The performances are as strong as the direction. Sam Riley is mesmerizing as Curtis. Much of Curtis' issues are internal and Riley gives light to these dark thoughts in a quietly intense performance that is worthy of a best-actor nomination. Opposite Riley is Samantha Morton (Elizabeth: The Golden Age) as Curtis' estranged wife Deborah. Usually, in these stories of imploding artists, the girlfriend or first wife is a cursory character who is pushed aside once the narrative moves along (see Walk the Line for a great example of this, Vivian Liberto, is cast aside by the film like yesterday's trash). In this story however, the abandoned wife clings on and we see the devastation brought on by the artist's myopia. Morton is brilliant in this role and honors Deborah Curtis with fair and moving performance. This woman obviously had to deal with a huge amount of pain being married to this man. Overall, this movie is depressing and not for everyone. I recommend it but only if you're into watching depressing, independent flicks about self absorbed jerks. Being a former self absorbed jerk myself, (now I'm just a jerk,) I can enjoy aspects of this film. I'd be surprised if there is a large audience for this kind of film.
Cautions: Foul language abounds but it is all contextual. It is a part of the culture shown and hardly gratuitous. Although there is a adulterous affair in the center of the story, it is handled with care. Corbijn is thoughtful director and doesn't play the more lurid parts of this story for cheap thrills.
***Spoiler Warning - I may ruin aspects of the film from this point forward***
Worldview: Curtis was clearly a troubled guy, that's an understatement. The opening scenes show Curtis as a teen in his dingy bedroom with pictures of David Bowie and Lou Reed hanging on his wall. Racked with teenage angst, Curtis loses himself in music and going to concerts. His trouble isn't unique or spectacular - he's just another Goth kid in the making. Your artsy types are a temperamental lot. The teenage years come to a close with Curtis dressing himself in glam rock style, mascara and frills, gender bending in the safety of his own bedroom. From early on Curtis is at odds with himself. You don't begin emulating Ziggy Stardust because he's cool, one does it because they want to escape what they really are - normal. As Curtis gets older and his band succeeds its precisely the normality of life that seems to drag him down. He has a lovely wife, a beautiful daughter and makes a living honestly helping people by locating jobs for the disadvantaged. Everything the man needed to be a complete person, a happy person, was at his fingertips. But Curtis was blinded by is angst, unimpressed with normality, he reveled in his torment thinking it was valuable.
His torments seem to come right from the verses of Ecclesiastes 2:17
17 So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
His troubled mind wasn't petty but it was littered with the results of looking for peace in the wrong place. Worshiping rock stars and actors and looking to them for leadership is foolish. When you seriously consume messages of anger, depression and spite, the way you see the world will be affected. Curtis replicated what he consumed and became another sour lyricist projecting his sorrow in his music. His music, as interesting as some of it may be, does nothing to improve the world. He, like many artists, believed the lie that he needed to coddle his depression and denounce the world in order to be authentic. In the end, his disintegration was not surprising. When we deny the beauty of the world - a world created by God ,the meaningless of existence will overcome the best defenses and self-loathing and bitterness will be the result. The real shame of suicide is its angering senselessness. Curtis' death destroyed a number of lives beyond his own. All he needed to do to was turn his pathetic self around and see the real world around him.