“Keep the Lights On”: Illuminating Codependency in a Gay Couple

I’ve been reading some generally great reviews for a new movie, Keep the Lights OnDan Heching, e.g., of NEXT Magazine: “Forget Brokeback Mountain; Keep the Lights On is the grittiest and most heartbreaking gay love story of our times.”

Keep the Lights On is based on the true story of the past relationship between New York literary agent Bill Clegg, who has written a couple books about his serious drug addictions, and the film’s director, Ira Sachs. The website indicates that characters Erik (Thure Lindhardt), a filmmaker, and Paul (Zachary Booth), a closeted lawyer, “meet through a casual encounter, but soon find a deeper connection and become a couple. Individually and together, they are risk takers – compulsive, and fueled by drugs and sex. In an almost decade-long relationship defined by highs, lows, and dysfunctional patterns, Erik struggles to negotiate his own boundaries and dignity while being true to himself.”

Watch the trailer below:

Andrew O’HehirSalon, acknowledges: “…(T)his movie may test how far the gay community has come on issues of self-representation. While it seems unlikely that bigots and homophobes would actively seek this film out (except, you know, on the sly and stuff), any who do see it could certainly cherry-pick details to support the thesis that Erik’s entire cadre of humanity are degenerates.”

David Lewis, San Francisco Chronicle, on the “co-dependent relationship” of Erik and Paul: “It’s a volatile combination for a couple: One man is addicted to love, the other to crack cocaine.”

Ed Gonzalez, Slant, offers an interesting example of how the addiction dynamics play out:

…(T)his is a naked confession about addiction—not so much about the using, but using as a weapon and how the user exploits the love and guilt of others to not get better. And the essence of this study of addiction is distilled into one detail: Erik’s obsession with the photograph of a woman who appears haunted in the face, almost as if she’s seen a ghost, though really her agonized reaction resulted from just having missed a train. Paul will strike some two-faced poses throughout Keep the Lights On, one during a dinner in which Erik, in front of a roomful of people, applauds Paul for seeking help for his drug problem. Paul smiles, though you sense he’s more embarrassed than charmed and may use this moment against his lover. Erik doesn’t see the truth behind the mask, not because he’s naïve, but for the same reason the photograph of the woman transfixes him: Like Paul, it tells a beautiful lie.

See it if you can—and then let me know what you think.

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