The halo of legend that circulates still today around the name of Ian Curtis, singer and leader of the Joy Division, is huge. It is something close to veneration, lived by several generations of fans, including those who came after his death and the band’s disbandment. And it is obviously something that has more to do with what Ian has offered through his musical expression: the depressed style, the hypnotic chords, the lyrics that leave no space to optimism. The poetics of the existential emptiness. That’s what identifies Ian Curtis, Joy Division, and their music. But that’s not the essential component of Control, the movie that Anton Corbijn dedicated to them in 2007.
If on one side Joy Division are a legend for the added value of their music, on the other side Corbijn knew too, that a work of art, in order to define it in this way, needs to offer an added value. In his case, the director’s contribution is to have portrayed the character in his human vests. Which means, in the weakest way possible. That’s why the film is called Control. Because it’s about an individual whose life has literally slipped out of hand. For a thousand reasons, but all in some way suffered by the protagonist, who alternates flashes of good intentions in which he would like to resume the flow of his life, to moments of extreme despondency for the fundamental inability to succeed. It’s Ian Curtis’ big weakness: to not be able to tame that freaking beast that his own life was. Or maybe it was his life, that had decided to employ everything possible to make him collapse.
Control covers a six-years span of Ian Curtis’ life: since he meets the girl who will become his wife (they will marry when he is 19 years old) until his death, on May 18, 1980, when he was 23. In between, the whole series of elements that have destabilized his life. Starting from epilepsy, which is known to emerge in a very early age, even before the band discovers the international success. It is the emblem of how everything around the figure of Curtis will be managed: it is not advisable to go ahead ignoring the problem, but they just cannot stop. And the same way will apply to his progressive detachment from his family and to his love for Annik, who will be his lover in the last years of his life, becoming the trigger that ends the relationship with his wife.
The music, in all this, is at the same time an indispensable accompaniment to the story (as obviously any spectator expects) and a clarifying element of the crucial phases of Ian Curtis’ life. Transmission, She’s Lost Control, Love Will Tear Us Apart emerge in the milestones in which the story unfolds, and besides Joy Division’s music also the other artists who have influenced them (David Bowie, Velvet Underground, Iggy Pop and so on) will disclose their effect. Up to the symbolic ending, with that black smoke on a gray background and Get Out, a song that was written by the formation born after the death of Ian Curtis, New Order. But the music is present only as long as it is needed, gradually fading into the second part of the film, when Ian’s control of life is lost. There, the sound that will impressed most is the visceral bass you hear during the hypnosis session, extracted from New Order’s Hypnosis, but so close to the heartbeat of a man who precipitated in his own darkness.