Voice Retrospect: How 'Control' depicted the extraordinarily short life of an icon

Control detailed a tragic ending to a promising career 

Voice Retrospect: How 'Control' depicted the extraordinarily short life of an icon

Filmed in black and white, ‘Control’ explores the rise and death of Ian Curtis. Lead singer of Manchester muses Joy Division. The band became one of the most well-loved acts of the 80s, marking a cultural shift in music and Manchester respectively. Their enigmatic sound led the way in post-punk with a more DIY culture and melodic sound off-set by brutally honest dark lyricism, and Ian foreshadowing his own death.

The film takes its name from the Joy Division track ‘She’s Lost Control’, a track Curtis wrote after someone he knew died of epilepsy – something that would later be experienced by Ian himself. The title alone is a striking metaphor for the story of a man who so desperately wanted to control the uncontrollable and the desire to be free from his own mind.

In the film, Ian Curtis is played by Sam Neil, one of the most illustrious castings in modern cinema – both perfection and a far cry from imitation. Sam Neil manages to embody one of the most troubled yet celebrated characters in music history. The film intertwines the star's love life alongside his battle with disability and passion for music whilst managing to eradicate any form of trashy storytelling that many biopics seem to possess

The main difference between ‘Control’ to other biopics is the focus on the mundane and dreary rather than the glitz and glamour of rock’n’roll life. It's a deep dive into troubled souls, kindred spirits and the darkest depths of the mind. It's as earnest as Ian himself, and the black and white cinematography adds to the air of disillusion whilst transporting the viewer back to the dingy historic streets of Manchester. 

By far one of the most important aspects of the film is its ability to portray disability and depression in a sensitive yet candid way. The biopic follows Ian’s struggle coming to terms with his epilepsy which eventually spearheaded his battle with depression that would later take his life at the age of 23. Many films showcase disability and mental health in a fantastical fashion, something to either be ashamed of or pitied, but ‘Control’ epitomises what life was like for both Ian and others dealing with the conditions in a time when both were heavily stigmatised. It would be great to say this isn't relevant today, but unfortunately the reason why the film strikes such a cord is due to its familiarity with the trials and tribulations of the modern-day. 

‘Control’ is one of the most underrated biopics in modern history and despite its critical acclaim it seems to have sunk into the background. It's one of the most heartfelt sincere stories in music that's well balanced between the story of life and the celebration of music. 

Ian Curtis tragically took his own life in 1980 at the age of 23. Despite this, Joy Division remains at the forefront of post-punk inspiring generations of musicians and fans alike. The sound of both ‘Unknown Pleasures’ and ‘Closer’ continue to live on, and smash hit ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ was named the greatest single of all time by NME. Ian’s stage presence and poetic tendencies are still heavily admired in Manchester and beyond.

Header Image Credit: Remko Hoving / Flickr


Faith Martin

Faith Martin Kickstart

Faith worked as a freelance journalist for a year after finishing her studies at Portsmouth College, writing for a number of esteemed publications as well as running her own music blog before joining Voice Magazine as a Kickstart Trainee Journalist. An avid vinyl collector and gig-goer, Faith also campaigns for disability rights and better disabled access at live music events.

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