Length: 101 minutes
Release Date: Sept. 7, 2012
Directed by: Ira Sachs
Stars: 2 out of 5
“Keep the Lights On” is the type of film that has viewers attached to the screen, though some might feel like they need to look away. The film feels so deeply personal and intimate that it actually feels like watching the life and times of two lovers.
The film focuses on Eric (Thure Lindhardt, “Angels & Demons”), a documentary maker who jumps from one man to the next. After meeting a book agent, Paul (Zachary Booth, “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”), the two share a drunken one-night stand. After getting to know each other a little better, they decide that they share something more than a physical connection.
Director Ira Sachs draws inspiration from his own life, adding elements that feel authentic to the viewer. Erik and Paul’s relationship seems like something that should fail, but as they grow closer, the viewers will want them to make things work. The film focuses on the moments the two share over multiple years, including the addictions that each have. The result is a powerful film that anyone who ever fell in love can understand.
Sachs focuses a good portion of the film on drug addiction, which some viewers might find difficult to watch. The film also focuses on the sacrifices that people make for their loved ones, which gives it that emotional impact that many modern love stories lack. Sachs uses his own experiences as a gay filmmaker living in New York City in the film, and he based the character of Erik on himself.
Erik is unsuccessful in his career, but he has a wealthy father who covers his losses. His sister Karen (Paprika Steen, “The Substitute”) is always behind him, pushing him to do more things with his life and find a better job. After his latest boyfriend leaves him, he jumps into a lifestyle filled with meaningless encounters and one-night stands, which lead him to Paul. The closeted Paul has a girlfriend at home and no plans to date a man, but he can’t keep his mind off Erik. Sachs based the character of Paul on his former lover Bill Clegg, an agent who published a book about his own life.
The chemistry between Booth and Lindhardt is palatable, leading the viewers to believe in their relationship. Even though they fight over their addictions, they bounce off each other in amazing ways. One of the best moments in “Keep the Lights On” comes when Paul comes home after spending a weekend with his drug-using friends. Erik holds an intervention for him, hoping to get him off drugs. Booth has a dark intensity in those scenes, playing a man who knows he needs help but doesn’t want to take that help.
One scene that many viewers will find difficult occurs when Paul relapses on drugs. Erik follows him to a hotel room and stays by his side until he admits that he has a problem. Erik tells his partner that he loves him and wants him home. The scene is dark and dramatic, made even more so when Paul continues on his journey with his partner standing next to him.
Sachs makes his only misstep with the structure of the film. As it chronicles a decade in the lives of two men, he shows only a few moments throughout their shared story. He touches the audience with a moment that shows the two working through their problems before jumping three years into the future when another problem arises. The two characters only get a few happy moments, while the rest of the film focuses on the darker side of their relationship. It sometimes feels like Sachs purposefully picked the worst moments from his life for the film and ignored the happy times. Some viewers might wonder why the two stay together after experiencing so many bad times together.
Booth and Lindhardt give their all to the film, putting every ounce of themselves into their roles. While they take the center stage, some of the background characters are just as important. Steen plays Karen as the sister who only wants the best for her brother. When she sees the hardships that his lover puts him through, she convincingly portrays the anguished loved one of anyone in that situation. Julianne Nicholson (“Kinsey”) turns up in a small role, playing Erik’s close friend who wants a baby more than anything else in the world. Nicholson convinces the viewer that she cares about Erik though she might not always act that way.
“Keep the Lights On” is a moving film that pays tribute to the art of romance. Though Erik and Paul face extreme hardships and problems, they somehow manage to overcome them all. Anyone who believes in the power of love will find this movie hard to resist.