Movie Reviews

At Eternity’s Gate – A Different Kind of Biopic

Well, if we called him Willem Da-friend in The Florida Project, we might as well call him Willem Da-f*$@ in this one.

Synopsis: Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate is a journey inside the world and mind of a person who, despite skepticism, ridicule and illness, created some of the world’s most beloved and stunning works of art. This is not a forensic biography, but rather scenes based on Vincent van Gogh’s letters, common agreement about events in his life that present as facts, hearsay, and moments that are just plain invented. (CBS Films)

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Rupert Friend, and Oscar Isaac

Writers: Jean-Claude Carrière, Louise Kugelberg, and Julian Schnabel

Director:  Julian Schnabel

Rating: PG-13 (United States)

Running Time: 110mins

Trailer: 

At Eternity’s Gate is an interesting movie to talk about, mainly within the fact that it is so, well, unconventional. Schnabel takes his painting background here in a way that is quite unexpected and more than likely for the best. The film is best when going in without any expectation  – because whatever they are, it’s safe to say that they will clearly be very, very inaccurate.

To begin, the story here is one that has absolutely been covered before – everyone has at least heard the name Vincent Van Gogh. While the audience will surely be asking themselves why another Van Gogh retelling needs to exist, but within it’s unique style, this was definitely a story worth telling. Nothing is too complex within the plot – we see Van Gogh (Dafoe) at the peak of his career, with his minimal success and all, and the emotional journey he has through this minimal success as well as his rivalry-like relation with fellow painter Paul Gauguin (Isaac). This story is definitely still captivating, but not necessarily for the pure content itself – but the way it is told.

This film would best be described as an arthouse/abstract film. Schnabel clearly made this film due to the unique stylistic ideas he had in regards to displaying it, and this is definitely a good thing. The structure is odd and imaginably, will be difficult for many to follow. The camera is used in a rather unique way, often uncomfortably close and moving. Schnabel has said that this was in an effort to have it be in the perspective of Van Gogh, showcasing his odd view of the world, opposed to how those around him perceive it. This was an excellent choice and only increased the intrigue of the story significantly. If it wasn’t for the true auteur-like handling of the story, it definitely would not have been as entertaining. In addition, Schnabel’s decision to have the characters speak in modern day English was a fascinating choice which put the focus on the characters opposed to the time period, unlike similar period pieces.

The cast here is great, as expected. Dafoe comes fresh off of his Oscar-nominated performance in The Florida Project to play a character with a much different emotional complexity in Van Gogh. He does a great job at letting the audience understand his pain as a an artist struggling to have his work connect with others. Oscar Isaac puts to the screen a great portrayal of Paul Gauguin, and the way he embodies the competitive side of the man really allows us to further connect with Van Gogh.

At Eternity’s Gate had a real great opportunity to be a boring, slow and lifeless biopic, but thanks to some excellent performances and truly visionary direction by painter Julian Schnabel, this is one of the most accessibly experimental films in recent memory, and makes a great viewing for cinephiles and art enthusiasts alike.

Score: 7/10

Follow me on twitter @daniel_azbel and on letterboxd @danthemovieman.

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