1 hr. 51 min. | Rated PG-13 |
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Rupert Friend, Oscar Isaac, Mads Mikkelsen, Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Niels Arestrup
There may never have been a painter as sure of his artistic vision, yet as emotionally needy, psychologically troubled and socially isolated as Vincent van Gogh. Willem Dafoe’s magnificent performance captures every bit of the artist’s complexity in Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate. With stunning visuals and a judicious balance of poetry and drama, Schnabel draws us into both Van Gogh’s genius and his tortured life.
The story he tells, of Van Gogh’s last years, is familiar. Financially supported by his loving brother, Theo (Rupert Friend), Van Gogh lives and works in the village of Arles, joined for a time by Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac). In and out of asylums, he died at the age of 37 in Auvers-sur-Oise, a thorough failure commercially.
At the start of the film a voiceover by Dafoe expresses Van Gogh’s poignant loneliness.
Gauguin is a stabilising force for a time. Isaac plays him as brash and larger than life, assertive in his debates with his fellow artist about their different approaches. Adored by Van Gogh, when Gauguin says he is about to leave Arles, Van Gogh runs off, howling with grief. Dafoe’s face displays the anguish felt by the painter, an excruciating moment.
In the aftermath of Gauguin’s abandonment, Van Gogh tells a doctor that he cut off his ear, hoping to send it to his friend.
As the film progresses, Schnabel emphasises Van Gogh’s near-mystic visions. The film doesn’t decide whether they were the source of his artistic genius, or symptoms of illness, or both, but leans toward the ‘mad genius’ definition of the artist.
There is no need to share Schnabel’s interpretation, though. Agree with him or not, he allows viewers to experience the mystery of creativity in this gloriously artistic film.