Film review: ‘AT ETERNITY’S GATE’ by Nick Gardener from Built For Speed

At Eternity’s Gate dramatises the last years of Vincent Van Gogh’s life. The film, directed by Basquiat’s Julian Schnabel and starring Willem Dafoe as Van Gogh, sees the artist living in poverty and tortured by mental illness in the French provincial town of Arles in the late 1880’s. Despite his desperate circumstances he produces astonishing work but his fractured mental state begins to overwhelm him and sees him treated as a pariah by the townsfolk.

The film immerses us in the physical and psychological world that inspired his art; his spiritual relationship with nature and the mental illness that both tormented and shaped his astonishing visions of the world. The film displays many of Van Gogh’s works, in fact he festoons his home with them.

This film will affect audiences very differently. For those who are mesmerised by Van Gogh’s work this excursion into his world will be paradise. Some, however, will find this film a little ponderous as it’s slow-moving and adopts an at times perplexing although mostly mesmerising impressionistic visual style with psychedelic images, disconcerting point-of-view shots, disorientating editing and odd use of filters. Importantly the film is drenched in the intoxicating colours that filled Van Gogh’s work. The film’s unusual visuals are wonderfully enhanced by striking pristine piano music from Tatiana Lisovkaia.

While the film’s leisurely pace won’t appeal to everyone, no one will deny that Willem Dafoe is terrific here. He inhabits the character of Van Gogh, not only does he look remarkably like him (despite being more than 30 years older than the artist) but he convincingly conveys his anguish and artistic passion. His Van Gogh is genuinely sad and fascinating although the film does indulge the seductive image of the sensitive tortured artistic wretch shunned by an ignorant and brutal society.

The film also features a strong supporting cast with Rupert Friend as his brother Theo, Mads Mikkelsen as a priest who attempts to counsel him and Oscar Isaac as Paul Gaugin. Isaac takes a while to warm to as Gaugin as he comes across as too confident and well-adjusted at first, a little like a slightly more bohemian Tony Stark.

At Eternity’s Gate probably won’t be spoken of in the reverential terms of a Van Gogh biopic such as Lust for Life but it’s still a striking and original examination of a fascinating genius.

Nick’s rating: ****

Genre: Biopic.

Classification: PG.

Director(s): Julian Schnabel.

Release date: 14th Feb 2018.

Running time: 110 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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