At Eternity’s Gate

(3.5 / 5)

‘If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere.’ – Vincent van Gogh

Regardless of how frequent you attend the local art gallery or can identify the differences between Monet, Dali and Picasso, people around the world can identify The Stars at Night or Sunflowers from the Dutch painter, Vincent van Gogh (Willem Dafoe). Despite being defined by his landmark impressionistic paintings, many may not know his turbulent history and like most artists, that he did not achieve real fame until after his death. Artist and director Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), brings to life the realities of this tortured master of the brush by showing the extreme highs of van Gogh in the final stage of his life. 

Like so many artists, van Gogh was misunderstood by the art community and the general populace. With a singularity of artistic drive that could have been misinterpreted as anti-social madness, Vincent was an artist that was rejected by his fellow artists and the general populace. He eventually left behind the streets of Paris to find the majestic vastness of the French countryside in Arles and Auvers-sur-Oise. The ground-breaking painter was able to see the inspiration in nature and the local town folk that have become synonymous with his oil masterpieces. 

Despite the artistic release and an atmosphere that allowed him to express his unique skills, the townships found it hard to accept the unusual nature of the Dutch artist. Even with his friendship with Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac) and the financial and moral support from his brother, Theo (Rupert Friend), Vincent eventually spirals into a mental state that gets him placed in an institution. He still continues to paint, because he feels that this is his only means of releasing his vision of the world and being his single gift from God. Not long after his release from the sanitarium, he has the opportunity to stay with a friend of the family who encourages him to paint, but even in this positive atmosphere the famed artist finds life too hard and his life is ended tragically early. 

Similar to the response from the folks of the small provincial towns where van Gogh lived, it may be hard to truly appreciate the work in Julian Schnabel’s interpretation of the artist’s life. At Eternity’s Gate is filmed in a manner that gives the impression of what it would be like to watch the master artist paint. The style is abrupt and taken from various angles that can be discombobulating at times, but complement van Gogh’s methods of painting. He attacked the canvas and utilised light and colour in new ways that defined a generation, but took time to be genuinely appreciated. This film may have the same impact on audiences which will walk away bewildered, exhausted, but enlightened in an inexplicable way. 

Willem Defoe should be considered for awards because of this performance which proves his range and ability to immerse himself in this character. He manages to show the madness and brilliance that drove the man. Even though some may question how the 63-year-old actor could play a man half his age since van Gogh died at the age of 37, but this aspect does not diminish this outstanding performance. What will cause people to pause will be the creative stylings of Schnabel’s filming and the non-linear touch will keep this film relegated to the arthouses of the world. This should not deter people from seeking out this film, especially those who have come to appreciate the work of this master who was before his time. 

REEL DIALOGUE: Does God provide artistic gifts? 

Vincent van Gogh created over 2,100 pieces of artworks during his short lifetime and during the two years portrayed in this film, he is credited with painting around 860 oil paintings. He credits God with providing him with the gift and curse of painting. Growing up as the eldest son of a Dutch Reformed pastor, he was well versed in the works of the Bible, quoting it regularly throughout his life. 

“When I look upon the landscapes of the world, I feel that I am looking at eternity’s gate.” 

The painter looked at the creation and found his inspiration and credited his drive to the creator. Could this be true? Could this master of the arts be crediting God with his talents? It is worth pondering.  

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Psalms 19:1

Trailer for the film

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Russell Matthews

Russell loves film and enjoys engaging in discussions about the latest cinema offerings and then connecting this with the Gospel. He has worked for City Bible Forum for over 10 years, is a reviewer for Insights Magazine and Entertainment Fuse and has a blog called Russelling Reviews. He moderates events for Reel Dialogue which connect the film industry with the general public.