Keep the Lights On is such an honest and intimate depiction of a troubled relationship, the audience can’t help but feel like a pack of voyeurs.
The award-winning independent film is a powerfully poignant account of a gay couple dealing with one partner’s drug addiction. Writer/director Ira Sachs (The Delta) based the story partly on his own experience of loving an addict, and every situation resonates with a been-through-it-all realness.
Unlike so many portraits of addiction, Lights sees the story through the eyes of the person in love with the drug abuser. That’s not exactly a bold approach, but Sachs makes us feel the struggle as he exposes raw, complex emotions while avoiding cliches.
Thure Lindhardt (Flame and Citron) is a revelation as the unlucky-in-love Erik, a documentary filmmaker who hopes he has met the man of his dreams in Paul (Zachary Booth of TV’s Damages), an articulate and successful literary attorney who’s in the closet. The two hook up after meeting on a phone sex line.
As they grow closer, it seems like a suitable match — two smart guys who connect intellectually and sexually. But as the years advance, unexplained absences begin, and deceits are revealed. As Paul’s problem intensifies, Erik grows more desperate and fearful. Lindhardt’s Erik breaks our hearts, tapping into the sweaty, anxiety-fraught concern he feels for his partner. Booth is perfectly cast as Paul, turning him into a charismatic enigma, a lover who appears and disappears.
Sachs includes a few secondary characters, but mostly he puts the focus on the couple, even when others are around. In keeping with that, he sets his most defining and shattering moment during a sexual encounter. The scene delivers an unforgettable emotional punch to the gut, sadly bringing together all that pain, desperation, sacrifice and even tenderness the two share.
By the film’s end, Sachs has yanked back the bedcovers of both men to expose what lies naked, tangled and withering beneath.
Cast: Thure Lindhardt, Zachary Booth, Julianne Nicholson.
Director: Ira Sachs.
Screenwriters: Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias.
Producers: Marie-Therese Guirgis, Lucas Joaquin, Ira Sachs.
A Music Box Films release. Running time: 101 minutes. Vulgar language, nudity, sexual situations, drug use. Opens Friday Oct. 12 in Miami-Dade: Tower; in Broward: Gateway.