3 Stars – Thoughtful

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In the film At Eternity’s Gate, the style of filming used to experience Vincent Van Gogh’s life parallels the visual experience of viewing his paintings. Using close-up camera angles as the eyes through which see Van Gogh, we also have moments in which we see what he sees, both of which allow us to become participants in the film in deeply emotive ways.  This technique was first used by Alfred Hitchcock in his 1958 film Vertigo, in which the camera is removed from a stationary stand and moves with the actors providing its own visual experience.  In this film, director and writer, Julian Schnabel exaggerates this effect which slows down the pace of the film while engaging all of us in the genius and struggles of this great artist.

Casting Willem Dafoe as Van Gogh is its own genius. The question of Van Gogh’s mental state is left uncertain as Dafoe skillfully allows us to experience the terrifying struggles of Van Goh’s mind.  He heard a malevolent voice and felt he was being spiritually menaced, but as the son of a pastor he interprets such an experience similar to his ability to experience the vibrations of life within nature.  Both his struggle and his artistic genius are interwoven in ways that even he himself does not want to unravel.  He explains that he must paint for that is who God made him to be.

The many aspects of his life are experienced not only through his self-imposed solitude, but through the few but defining relationships he had.  The most important is his brother Theo (Rupert Friend).  A visual presentation of his care for Vincent is seen when he holds him in the bed of the sanitarium. We join them in that closeness as Theo respectfully engages Vincent’s pain and fear, Theo provides a living from his own modest income as an art dealer.

Also present is Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac).  Gauguin’s post-impressionist style as well as his aversion to bureaucratic organizations causes him to not fit within the community of artists.  But this gifting and personality seems to uniquely bond him with the eccentricities of Van Gogh.  In this film it was for Gauguin that Vincent cut off his ear in an unproductive attempt to keep him from returning to Paris and leaving him.

In this film, the journey we take with Van Gogh allows us to experience both his passion and his instability in a way that enlightens our own hearts and our minds.  A man of faith who wanted to paint the light, he equates God with nature and nature with beauty.  It is this blending that explains not only his own life but the life he places on his canvases for all of us to enjoy.


  1. In this film Van Gogh states that he would rather keep his mental instability than lose his artistic passion.  How close do you think genius is related to mental or personality disorders?

  2. Have you found your passion?  How does your passion tend to take over your life just as painting took over Van Gogh’s?

  3. The loving care of Theo whose name means God, demonstrates a tremendous depth of love.  Is there a person for whom you are sacrificing time and resources to help? How is this affecting you?


Posted on December 12, 2018 and filed under 3 STARS, THOUGHTFUL.