Dir; Julian Schnabel. Starring; Willem Dafoe, Rupert Friend, Oscar Isaac. PG-13. Color. 111 min.
Everyone has their favorite movie, band, song, and painting. My go to painting has always been “A Starry Night” by Vincent Van Gogh. Not just because of it’s obvious raw beauty but also because of the struggle and pain Van Gogh went through in his under appreciated life. It would be tough to find another actor more suited to play the troubled icon other than Willem Dafoe (sorry Kirk Douglas, this is better) and an auteur other than Julian Schnabel to give the man’s story justice.
Not a cliche origin story if you will, “At Eternity’s Gate” deals mainly with the years in which Van Gogh lived in the French country side and did some of the most exquisite pieces of art in human history while being completely ignored by his contemporaries. Most people know that Van Gogh famously cut off his own ear in a drunken rage. Few know the true internal pain the man lived with every day. The smaller moments are what Schnabel is focused or not focused on here.
The plot is irrelevant the same way that when somebody asks you about a great painting and says “what did they paint?” or a song moves one to tears then a person reacts “so it was a love song?” The film of course goes through Van Gogh’s troubles from being unaccepted by his family to his struggles working with more conventional artists like Paul Gaugin (an excellent Oscar Issac) to his imprisonment in a mental institution clouded by the church’s notion of “just believe in god” thinking.
The last thing Van Gogh would have cared about is the script. All the artist cared about was seeing the world as he knew he saw it far differently than everyone else and became so frustrated by people like you and me that we could not see beauty in the smallest things like him. Of course alcoholism didn’t help an already manic mind such as his.
Julian Schnabel has this ability of understanding historic artists in the correct light, no pun intended. His “Before Night Falls” starring Javier Bardem as famous gay Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas struggling to stay alive during the Fidel Castro led cultural revolution put the director on the map. Schnabel followed that up with 2007’s Oscar winning Best Foreign Language Film “The Diving Bell and Butterfly” which tells the story of fashion magazine “Elle” creator Jean-Dominique Bauby after he suffers a stroke and 90% of the film is shot from the view of the one eye Bauby had control of. What Schnabel’s previous work and now “Eternity’s Gate” all have in common is that the director knows how to tell the appropriate visual story of a genius that only time would have people realize their importance.
With “At Eternity’s Gate” Schnabel and cinematographer Benoit Delhomme take the approach of beauty inside chaos. Taking a page out of the Terrence Malick style of filmmaking, the camera is almost always moving handheld style. But it is not random shots somebody could take on their phone as the lighting and background images are out of a painting, pun intended there. The style fits the character. My only criticism is that they go so far with the concept that it can be a struggle to get through in certain moments. You have moments in which the camera stops and simply looks at a field or forrest, things one would not normally think they have to remember this. But they are few and far between.
Willem Dafoe is tremendous as Van Gogh. I have heard and read countless stories about how great of a person he is. Yet from role to role he has this quality to exude internal strife better than most actors in history.
Like all real art, “At Eternity’s Gate” is not for everyone. And similar to walking through an art museum everyone will have their personal favorite. It is not a perfect film but I would be hard pressed to conceptualize a better way to immortalize an imperfect genius such as Vincent Van Gogh.
Suck Factor: 1out of 7 (7 means your movie really SUCKS!)
Written by Byrd
The SUCK FACTOR, how it works. We have flipped the rating system upside down. If a film is classic, it gets a 0. Meaning that movie has 0 SUCKS. If a film is complete trash you must avoid at all costs, it gets a 7, meaning this movie really SUCKS!