Film Review: ‘Keep the Lights On’ Plays Like Memory of Doomed Relationship
CHICAGO – Ira Sachs’ intimate “Keep the Lights On” is about the intersection of love and addiction and how the two can rarely exist in the same relationship. It is reportedly at least semi-autobiographical and the film undeniably has the feeling of memory, both in its emotional honesty and its episodic nature. It is a film in which we see snapshots of a long-term love affair that seems doomed from the start. The raw truth of much of it is strong enough to make the sometimes frustrating structure forgivable.
One man meets another for a casual sex encounter, after which the closeted of the two says, “I have a girlfriend, by the way. So, don’t get your hope up.” It probably should have ended there. But it doesn’t. Erik (Thure Lindhardt) is a documentary filmmaker who seems to lack a lot of focus in his life, something his sister Karen (Paprika Steen) is quick to point out. During a majority of “Keep the Lights On,” Erik is making a documentary about a barely-known filmmaker named Avery Willard. How he could spend so much of his life on a project that clearly couldn’t pay a bill is not overly explained but it does seem like an important theme, especially given the financial circles in which his new boyfriend runs.
|Read Brian Tallerico’s full review of “Keep the Lights On” in our reviews section.|
That new boyfriend is Paul (Zachary Booth), a handsome young man who is not only more closeted than Erik but faces significant demons of addiction. He disappears for large chunks of time and doesn’t respond to friends or family who try to get him help for his clear drug addiction. In one scene, Paul disappears from a dinner and the next time we see him it’s clear he’s been gone all night (although one doesn’t know if it’s the actual night of the dinner given the episodic nature of the film). As the film progresses, less and less of “Keep the Lights On” is about passion or love and more of it centers on Paul’s addiction.
Can you save someone you only really know sexually? I think that “Keep the Lights On” purposefully leaves out much of the traditional romance elements of films like this one. Sure, Paul throws Erik a surprise birthday party and there seems to be some joy early on in their relationship that is rekindled later with a heartfelt Christmas present but the undertone from the beginning is certainly not one that implies these men were meant to be together. There’s a sense that this is a doomed relationship picture from nearly their first encounter as Paul quickly turns to drugs and long absences. Perhaps Sachs is sketching a portrait of a man who can’t focus on anything – career or love – long enough to save another from addiction even if part of him really wants to do so.
Keep the Lights On
Photo credit: Music Box Films