• James Rutherford

'At Eternity's Gate': An Expressive Depiction of Vincent Van Gogh in the Waning Years of His Life


Movie poster for the film At Eternity's Gate starring Willem Dafoe as Vincent Van Gogh

"At Eternity's Gate" (2018) is an impassioned and profound biographical drama depicting Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh (Willem Dafoe) in the waning years of his life, increasingly desperate to express his entangled feelings for the world on canvas and paper. Situated in southern France, Van Gogh struggles with burdensome questions over the permanence of art in relation to the ephemeral nature of his subjects. Shifting from oil to ink in a sketchbook gifted to him by a local woman, he pours himself into landscape drawings even while grappling with existential uncertainties regarding eternity and the true essence of nature. Ultimately visited by his brother Theo (Rupert Friend) who proceeds to summons close friend Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac), Van Gogh struggles in the presence of his fellow post-Impressionist—his choleric attitude setting the stage for a dramatic and highly consequential divergence between the two men. Co-written and directed by celebrated artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel ("The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", "Basquiat"), "At Eternity's Gate" is an evocative and often disquieting depiction of artistic genius beset by (some may say bolstered by) profound mental illness. An ultimately tragic tale of ruination, Schnabel and co-writers Jean-Claude Carrière and Louise Kugelberg incorporate the controversial theory that Van Gogh's ultimate death was the result of misconduct rather than suicide. This contestable detail notwithstanding, the film remains a strikingly expressive and impassioned depiction of well-chronicled, entirely unequivocal brilliance.

 

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