Quick Hit: As enigmatic as one of Van Gogh’s paintings.
Vincent Van Gogh might be one of those people in history that people just feel the need to adapt. There are multiple biopics about him, probably because he was one of those artists that was totally unappreciated in his time and died as a poor man and by his own hand (maybe). Even his contemporaries, like Paul Gauguin, failed to understand the need’s Vincent hand to paint in nature but not a direct correlation of nature. Van Gogh totally changed art history forever, but it’s his tragic nature that makes him so fascinating to filmmakers.
At Eternity’s Gate follows Van Gogh (Willem Dafoe) through the last few years of his tortured life, through asylum after asylum as he struggled to fit in with the world around him. Dafoe is 63, playing a character that is 37, but those who have seen his performance in Aquaman know that Dafoe hasn’t aged a day, and Van Gogh was so aged by life that the pairing seems natural. Indeed, Dafoe’s performance is the highlight of the movie – ever changing and unable to be defined. He simultaneously seems childish at times, and fiercely independent at others, and seems both incredibly self-confident and unsure of his work. It’s a see-saw of a role, but Dafoe nails it with his trademark intensity.
The movie is directed by Julian Schnabel, himself a painter. And at times, he perfectly captures the feel of an impressionistic painting. There’s a lot of Van Gogh’s trademark blue that abounds in the film, but there are also times when the film livens in color. It’s almost like stepping into one of Van Gogh’s paintings. The best example of this is probably an extended period when we spend following Van Gogh into a field, and Schnabel focuses entirely on his feet. We come back to this shot later in the film, and it shows that it’s part of just how Van Gogh saw the world.
However, part of the problem with this is that it makes the movie feel choppy. It’s very back and forth and there are moments in the film that really dragg a bit. But when Schnable gets it right, he really does, like a scene in which a priest (Mads Mikkelsen) is interviewing Van Gogh about his paintings. He tentatively calls them ugly, and Van Gogh mentions that maybe God placed him at the wrong time. It’s a harrowing conversation that describes that maybe sometimes the appreciation we desrve isn’t to befall us until later.
At Eternity’s Gate wouldn’t be appearing at this year’s Academy Awards if it wasn’t for Willem Dafoe. The movie is good but not great, but Dafoe is. I’m giving the film a “B-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"