If your soul mate is from a phone dating-service, they aren’t your soul mate.
Late one night while cruising for sex on the phone, documentary filmmaker Erik (Thure Lindhardt) meets a closeted lawyer by the name of Paul (Zachary Booth). While they both exchange in some pretty hot sex, they also seem to want a bit more, even though Paul is already in a relationship with a woman. Erik doesn’t mind this and actually finds himself falling for Paul; so much so that it actually scares him. But it’s love and you can’t fight that feeling, no matter how bad things may get. And here, they get pretty damn terrible. Over the next ten years of their up-and-down relationship, Erik begins to realize that not only does Paul have a drug problem, but that he needs to get it fixed out before it’s too late for the both of them. But even if Erik can “cure” Paul of his addiction, what does that mean for the both of them together? Can they work it out? Or, simply put, will they just dissolve into the thin air of nothingness like most relationships end up being?
From what I’ve read, it seems that most of this is based on writer/director Ira Sachs’ own experience in love, but more importantly, a relationship he had himself. With that information taken into consideration, the film becomes a whole lot more personal and intimate than it already appears so as being, which is saying a whole lot, because this movie is so closed-off from the rest of the world around it, that it almost becomes suffocating. But that’s somewhat of a good thing here, especially since it keeps mostly all of our focus on these two men, their relationship and just exactly what makes them so compatible in the first place.
Usually how most of my relationships begin….
However, that’s where Sachs’ movie frustrated me: We never get a full sense as to why these two fall so madly in love together in the first place. I can totally understand and accept a movie that’s presenting a romance doomed from the very beginning, and just continuing to show it as it gets worse and worse for the individuals involved, but I can’t wholly accept a movie when that’s all it has to show. We hardly get to know these characters, except that one’s a whole a lot immature than the other; which is saying something because the other spends most of the movie running away without telling anybody where he’s going, having sex with random strangers, and doing a whole lot of crack.
And like I said before, I’m fine with a movie presenting me a complicated situation, with complicated people involved with them, but here, it feels like nothing’s all that complicated, or at least it shouldn’t be: One should clearly dump the other, but can’t because he’s just too needy and sexually-charged. It’s understandable that these aren’t characters we’re supposed to fall in love with; much rather, we’re supposed to understand them as who they are and why they want this relationship to work in the first place, but it sort of seems like Sachs keeps most of that away from us.
Well, at least in the case of Paul, who mostly just ends up turning out to be an unsympathetic dick that yes, may have a very serious drug problem, but doesn’t really feel like he’s worthy of having a connection with anyone, let alone somebody as caring and as loving as Erik. And because of this problem with Paul, Erik ends up being a whole lot more likable, even though he isn’t without his own fair share of problems, either.
For starters, Erik’s a little boy, trapped in an older dude’s body; meaning, he thinks and has feelings as if he’s still an adolescence, yet is clearly older and has to take on more responsibilities. He’s also our main focus of this movie and it’s hard to not want to give him a hug after he’s been thrown around, tossed, and kicked by this feeling of love he gets, even if it does feel way too much, for such a very short amount of time. However, it isn’t unbelievable in the way it’s presented to us in the film because of how Sachs has made Erik a sad, lonely guy who seems like he’s in desperate need of someone to hold and cherish.
…how they meander….
That said, Erik’s mostly a compelling character because of how good Thure Lindhardt is at playing him. Rather than over-doing his character’s acts of immaturity to give you the impression that he’s a middle-schooler experiencing love and sex for the first time in his life, Lindhardt shows/tells us all we need to know by the way he carries himself from place to place, and the people he talks to in these places. And in these countless interactions with others, we get to understand and know a little more about who Erik is, as small as those pieces of info may be.
Still, it’s not enough to fully have us understand just why it is that we’re watching this story play out. Sure, Erik is a character that’s easy to care for, even when it seems like he’s the one who is bringing most of this pain and agony onto himself, but as for Paul and their relationship as a whole: I just wanted to see it over and done with. Most of that was to see Erik and Paul eventually released from whatever hurt they’ve been holding onto for all these years, but because it would actually bring something more compelling to the movie as a whole. It’s clear that this is a very personal story for Sachs and because of that being so, it does end up telling some hard-earned truths about love, commitment and how low one will stoop to keep a relationship afloat, but it ends up being almost too personal. Meaning that while it may mean a whole lot to him, the creator of transporting his own, real-life experiences to film, it doesn’t really hold nearly as much importance to the audience that’s watching his story practically play out in front of their own very eyes.
And, I mean, come on! Isn’t it the audience we make these movies for in the first place?
Consensus: Sachs’ writing and directing usually presents some interesting points about his character’s, as well as the situation they’re going through, but for most of Keep the Lights On‘s run-time, it just walks a very slow, uninteresting line.
6.5 / 10 = Rental!!
…and then of course, how they end. (That”s usually me on the right)
Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images