Keep The Lights On
Most of the film feels more distant than emotionally involving, it’s still a well-done relationship drama with an incredible lead performance.
Ira Sachs’ Keep The Lights On is a fictional drama that has a deeply personal background to it. Sachs was in a long-term relationship with Bill Clegg, a literary agent who had a crippling drug addiction. Clegg wrote about his struggles in a memoir that came out several years ago, and now Sachs has made a film that shows their tumultuous relationship from his perspective. While most of Keep The Lights On feels more distant than emotionally involving, it’s still a well-done relationship drama with an incredible lead performance.
Starting in 1998, Erik (Thure Lindhardt) is first seen talking on the phone looking for men to have sex with (think of it as a more primitive version of Grindr). He hooks up with Paul (Zachary Booth), a closeted lawyer for a book publisher who has a girlfriend. “Don’t get your hopes up” he tells Erik, but eventually they’re moving into a nice apartment together. While Erik is off making a documentary about an obscure queer artist named Avery Willard, the cracks in their partnership begin to form. The biggest issue is Paul’s addiction to crack-cocaine which Erik tries to save his boyfriend from repeatedly.
As the film spans over a decade we see Erik and Paul’s relationship go up and down. Paul goes to rehab but ends up relapsing, while Erik fruitlessly tries to play saviour and dabbles in bad behaviour on his own. Keep The Lights On feels episodic in nature as it leaps forward every 2-3 years, with Thure Lindhardt’s performance serving as the film’s anchor. Lindhardt portrays Erik as overly sensitive, a man who has to constantly fight over his love for Paul while putting up with the hell that comes with their partnership. After Erik wins an award for his documentary, his celebration is cut short when Paul vanishes for weeks. In one of the hardest scenes to watch, Erik eventually finds Paul in a hotel room and stubbornly refuses to leave, even putting up with Paul having sex with a hustler in the room next to him.
Years later, after a break-up, the two meet again. As they’re leaving Paul says they should go their separate ways, but Erik’s body language screams the opposite even as he agrees. The two end up getting back together yet again, but by this time the film and their relationship is moving towards its natural conclusion. The fact that Lindhardt can still evoke sympathy and understanding after putting up with situations people would run screaming from speaks volumes about the strength of his performance. Erik and Paul’s relationship may not have the emotional impact that Sachs was probably looking for, but Keep The Lights On is still well-made with a terrific cast supporting one of the year’s best performances.