Keep the Lights On (2012)
Critic Consensus: Keep the Lights On is a mysterious, sexy journey deep into the love affair of two men that always manages to stay true to life.
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Critic Reviews for Keep the Lights On
This is a painful drama, but its pain is more studied than emotive, and it demands that we think just as much as it makes us feel.
The cast, uniformly excellent, draws us into a vibrant, energetic Manhattan where commitments are forged and broken through sheer chance and those seeking permanence must continually resist temptation and ennui.
A complex and mysterious tale of a love affair, one that lacks the tidy story arc of a movie but feels real.
When you summon memories of this film, they are almost always of two men in a room, in a default state of discontent.
Keep the Lights On acknowledges (without belaboring) the performative nature of identity; how each of our claims to selfhood, be it sexual, romantic, or professional, are staged on a shifting terrain of habit, fantasy, and desire.
Audience Reviews for Keep the Lights On
Mind numbingly dull.
Think of "Keep the Lights On" as a companion piece to last year's wondrous little film "Weekend" (which was on my Top 10 list of 2011). Gay men, who have played a major role in creating and developing cinema, are FINALLY turning their cinematic attention to gay relationships. It only took 100 years. And we're not talking about superficial melodrama or soft-core porn. There's no beefcake in either one of these films.
These are also not coming-out stories. This is thoughtful, subtle, realistic reflection on the dynamics of adult gay relationships. Boyfriends. Whereas "Weekend" examined a brief affair with the potential to grow into a long-term relationship, "Lights" depicts a long-term relationship -- with many ups and downs. But not for a second is it melodrama.
Writer/director Ira Sachs, who made his first feature film, "The Delta," about 15 years ago (which I haven't seen), brings to life the story of two well-educated Manhattanites who have an anonymous sexual encounter that grows into a 10-year relationship. One is a documentary filmmaker; presumably this at least to some degree represents Sachs himself. The other is a literary agent and book editor.
Thure Lindhart, a Danish-born actor, plays the filmmaker. Lindhart took my breath away two years ago in the Danish film "Brotherhood," which was on my Top 10 List of 2010. It's fantastic to see him breaking into American cinema. I guess I wasn't the only American who noticed "Brotherhood." Zachary Booth plays the literary agent. Booth is perhaps most recognizable as Glenn Close's son in the brilliant TV show "Damages."
After a few years of relative happiness, the relationship runs into serious difficulty when the literary agent drifts into drug abuse. The film doesn't slip down the rabbit hole of lurid drug voyeurism. We don't go along with this man on his weekend-long drug binges. The film is mostly concerned with the emotional wreckage that results after the binge is over. We see the aftermath, not the drug binge.
There's only one scene that depicts one of the binges. And here again, the focus is not on the binge itself so much as the emotional responses of the sober boyfriend who witnesses it. The film also nicely explores the ways that the filmmaker gets emotional support from his diverse circle of family and friends.
But unfortunately the analysis in "Lights" never cuts that deep. It's thoughtful but only in a sketchy way. It hints at ideas more than explores them. The film also is not edited that well and starts to feel repetitious after a while. There's no denying, however, that "Keep the Lights On" is one of the better films of 2012 and a wonderful addition to what will hopefully grow into a sub-genre of serious gay cinema.
In "Keep the Lights On," Karen(Paprika Steen) gives her brother Erik(Thure Lindhardt), a documentary filmmakerin his 30's, grief over not being able to put his life together. That's even with her not knowing about his phone sex habit which is how he hooks up with Paul(Zachary Booth) who mentions something about a girlfriend after they have sex. That does not stop them from forming a relationship that goes beyond the physical, however. Meantime, Erik's friend Claire(Julianne Nicholson) wants to have his baby while he sweats out an HIV test.
"Keep the Lights On" is a quietly intense and incisive look at a turbulent relationship. As erotic as the movie is, there is one sex scene that has to be one of the most emotionally unnerving I have ever seen. That having been said, the movie has less to do with sex than with addiction and those it affects. Ironically, Erik is an anchor for Paul, otherwise clean cut with a good job compared to Erik who has never been big on responsibility. Throughout, Erik gets glimpses of other potential realities, one of which would be a huge mistake to say the least. Along these same lines, the movie's central weakness is telling it entirely from Erik's point of view which, while building suspense concerning Paul's whereabouts, limits the story in not properly giving Paul adequate definition.
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