Vincent Van Gogh is a fascinating figure. He had many mental and physical problems, but still had strong opinions on art and nature. At Eternity’s Gate beautifully portrays his struggles and his genius.
This film’s beauty begins with its camerawork. It is very shaky and uses lots of close ups. At first, it seems quite disorienting, but as it goes on and we are able to understand the mind of Van Gogh more fully, it is fitting. Using the camera in this way demonstrates the kinds of problems that are going on in Van Gogh’s mind. This film is not a biopic, but rather a snapshot of the end of Van Gogh’s life, where he was having an extremely difficult time. It is the story of a tortured artist who feels that he is creating art for future generations, and not his contemporaries. So the camera tries to put the viewer in his head and shows how he is overwhelmed by everything. One particular sequence does a great job of this.
Van Gogh also has a view of nature that is easy to latch on to and sympathize with. His preference is always to paint something he is looking at, whether that is a plant, a landscape, or a person. But Paul Gauguin, his closest friend and fellow artist, is a proponent of painting from your imagination. The film never says who is right, which I appreciate. I enjoy when a film allows the viewer to decide for themselves what view they want to have.
Willem Dafoe also gives a great performance. Even though he is 26 years older than Van Gogh was at the time that the film depicts, he is still able to bring the sensibilities and mental problems necessary to depict the character.
But there is something that just seems off about the movie overall. It is a very good movie that is a step away from being truly great. I think the necessary addition to make it great is better pacing. At times, it is frantic, but at other times, a five minute chunk is devoted to watching Van Gogh walk through nature. These are both necessary aspects to making the film work as a whole, but they should have been more well-placed.
At Eternity’s Gate certainly succeeds at informing its viewers about one of the most well-regarded artists of all time. It provides beautiful insight to this man’s life. Even though it was filled with struggles and hardship, he loved what he did and had strong opinions about it. When all is said and done, no more can be asked for in life.