Illness can derail the dreams even of the most ambitious and talented. Such fate is especially cruel when it targets the young. It's a theme explored in the incisive film Control, which recounts the story of a young man from northeast England who, in the 1970s, became lead singer of the groundbreaking rock band Joy Division. Ian Curtis had his first massive epileptic seizure at 21, on the way back from a performance the band had just given in London.
Directed by the noted photographer Anton Corbijn and shot in atmospheric, high-contrast black and white, Control pulls no punches about what Curtis (Sam Riley, in a star-making turn) was up against. When we see the musician in his physician's office, we hear the doctor rattle off a long list of medications, most of which prove ineffective. Later, we get a glimpse of the meds lined up formidably in the medicine cabinet. We're also privy to the side effects of the drugs—including drowsiness, which results in Curtis falling asleep at the desk of his daytime government job.
The singer's early marriage and fatherhood factor strongly into his extramarital relationship and later depression. But there's no doubt that his epilepsy—he has a full-blown seizure on stage and is dragged off in full view of the audience—contributed to his sinking spirit and to the brooding intensity of his music. In 1980, right before Joy Division was about to cross the Atlantic for their first U.S. tour, Curtis hanged himself. He was 23.
More than 25 years after Curtis's death, and in spite of improved treatments, epilepsy is very much with us. So is Joy Division's music, which influenced an entire generation of New-Wave bands with its stark beauty.