By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
Julian Schnabel has directed his share of acclaimed films, but some film fans may not know that he actually started out his artistic live as a renowned painter, before starting to direct with a biopic of an artistic contemporary- Basquiat.
At Eternity’s Gate is his first film about painting since then, focusing on the last days of Vincent Van Gogh (Willem Dafoe) and flashing back to his chaotic friendship with Paul Gaugain (Oscar Isaac), his bouts with insanity or at least institutions for the insane, and his overall philosophies of painting and life.
Julian Schnabel certainly doesn’t try and deliver a standard biopic, layering his film with interesting visuals, including low-angle shots reminiscent of Terrence Malick, and, when taking Van Gogh’s perspective, rheumy filters simulating one of the many theories trying to explain Van Gogh’s unique perspective of the world- a literal eye condition.
Willem Dafoe does a hell of a job portraying a man who died 26 years before his current age (Van Gogh didn’t make it to 40), deserving every bit of his Best Actor nomination. He finds a way to humanize this passionate, spiritual man- breathing life into a figure that is easy to obscure with the legend. He’s the soul of a film that is nothing without a soul despite all of its stylistic flourishes- the real reason to watch.
Finally, Oscar Isaac, who portrays Van Gogh’s friend and fellow painting legend Gaugain, makes everything better, and his scenes with Van Gogh crackle with energy and ideas.
Well, almost everything.
The script suffers, however, from some leaden plotting, explicating his last months and days in a fairly straightforward fashion. It makes you appreciate the murder mystery angle of Loving Vincent a bit more because at least they tried something different.
Ultimately the Malick-lite approach also resists psychological insight into a historical figure that practically begs for analysis. I can appreciate that so much of it exists out there in print form, but if you’re making a Van Gogh film, take a tack.
At Eternity’s Gate is a slightly lethargic, yet well-performed and well-shot rendering of the genius of Van Gogh.
At Eternity’s Gate (2018) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every painting you recognize
Take a Drink: every time Van Gogh is ganged up on
Take a Drink: every time money is mentioned
Take a Drink: for every visit to a hospital or asylum
Do a Shot: for the shot