“Keep the Lights On”
Gay Love in 21st-Century New York
Set in 1997, New York is changing. Erik Rothman (Thure Lindhardt), a documentary filmmaker, meets Paul Lucy (Zachary Booth), a good looking lawyer who is in the closet. What started as a sexual encounter evolves into a relationship and the two men begin a life together yet each of them privately deals with his own addictions and compulsions. Ira Sachs gives us an in-depth look at the nature of a relationship in today’s world. This is, above everything else, a love story that deals with what love means and how far will a person go to keep things together.
Erik and Paul met via a phone sex line and their casual relationship evolves into something so much more. The chemistry between the two men is boiling hot. They are together for some ten years during which they dealt with demanding work schedules, drug addiction and remaining monogamous. The fact that the movie is set in the ‘90’s one thing but it looks like a film from that time.
Over the ten years that the two are together, the relationship is troubled and ultimately falls apart. We are like voyeurs watching this happen as we see little events in the men’s lives. We can only imagine how difficult it is to film a relationship coming apart and the relationship never comes across as fully realized. Erik is sympathetic with a vulnerability that causes us to like him whereas Paul is a character that does not have much going for him. Erik tries very hard to try to save Paul from his addiction to crack cocaine and in reality Erik is the focus of the film.
The film is also quite bold and when we first meet Erik he is on the phone talking to someone as he sticks his hand into his pants and fondles himself. He says that he is masculine, 5’11’’, blonde, handsome and has 6 ½ inches uncut. I read that Erik is actually a representation of director Sachs and this is the story of his own tormented relationship. However I read that Paul is well known in the New York City publishing world (and of course we can guess who it is).
Sachs presents us with a look at gay life in NYC at the end of the 20th century and onto the beginning of the 21st. Erik and Paul deal with the usual problems of gay urban life and as I said before, drug addiction, promiscuity and what comes across as the onset of mental illness. While there is no frontal nudity in the film there is lots of explicit gay sex.
The actors live their roles and they are complex characters and all of us can something to identify with in the two men and their relationship. This is not a movie about identity, homophobia or coming-out—the usual themes we get in gay film. This is a movie about a relationship, about two men who fall in love in a city that is gay friendly and diverse and who have gay friends that act as a support group, yet the two guys still manage to mess it up.
I remember so well Sach’s first film, “The Delta” which dealt with sexual awakening which is contrast to this in which our characters are sexually awake. Here they deal with indecision and this film goes deep into the psyches of Erik and Paul (to a lesser degree) and plays on the viewer’s emotions. I do not think that we get to see many personal movies like this and it is a welcome surprise. In fact, I have several reviews that state that this is one of the best dramatic films screened at Sundance, 2012.
Spanning ten years filled with personal crises, the film becomes almost epic in scope and gives us the character’s sense of who they are as they deal with intimacy. A word about the title–it seems that keeping the lights on means that everything is revealed and there are no secrets. Quite powerful, this is a film that you do not want to miss.