Keep the Lights On shows the naked truth of gay love in the big city
Starring Thure Lindhardt and Zachary Booth. Unrated. Opens Friday, November 9, at the Vancity Theatre
True to its title, Keep the Lights On isn’t shy about showing the naked truth of gay love in the big city. It displays it in all its moody complexity, never glossing over the gritty emotional realities or sexual fumbling.
Ira Sachs’s semiautobiographical film opens at night, in New York, with a furtive phone-sex hookup. Erik (the soulful Thure Lindhardt) is a Danish filmmaker as fickle in his love affairs as he is in his career. When he has a fling with a successful publishing lawyer, Paul (Zachary Booth), sparks fly, and Erik feels like he may be ready to settle down. But appearances can be deceiving: Paul has a girlfriend and deals with his stress by using drugs. The movie follows the unpredictable shifts in their relationship over 10 years, complete with the push and pull of promiscuity and the damage of addiction. By the end, Erik, almost childlike in his vulnerability but secure in his ambivalence, may be the more stable one.
The movie is episodic, less about a direct story line than about creating mood and emotion on the most intimate scale. What it lacks in action, though, it somewhat makes up for in atmosphere. Sachs’s film inhabits a nocturnal, richly textured New York, often in dimly lit bedrooms, set off by the melancholic cello and electronic beats of musician Arthur Russell. It’s stylish without being smug.
On one level, the fearlessly candid Keep the Lights On is about the difficulty of love, gay or straight, and the way it alters over time. It also seems to be about what it means to be gay, right now, in a city where almost everyone is out of the closet and HIV is largely a nagging memory. But, mostly, the messages are unclear, Paul remains a bit of a mystery, and the feel is more meditative. Keep the Lights On ultimately feels elusive—a bit like love itself.
Watch the trailer for Keep the Lights On.