At Eternity's Gate (film)
|At Eternity's Gate|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Julian Schnabel|
|Produced by||Jon Kilik|
|Music by||Tatiana Lisovskaya|
|Box office||$10.5 million|
At Eternity's Gate is a 2018 biographical drama film about the final years of painter Vincent van Gogh's life. The film dramatizes the controversial theory put forward by Van Gogh biographers Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, in which they speculate that Van Gogh's death was caused by mischief rather than it being a suicide.
The film is directed and co-edited by Julian Schnabel, from a screenplay by Schnabel, Jean-Claude Carrière and Louise Kugelberg. It stars Willem Dafoe as Van Gogh, Rupert Friend, Oscar Isaac, Mads Mikkelsen, Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner and Niels Arestrup. Principal photography took place in late 2017 over 38 days at various locations across France where Van Gogh resided during his final years.
The film held its world premiere at the 75th Venice International Film Festival on September 3, 2018. The film was theatrically released in the United States on November 16, 2018, by CBS Films, before streaming on Netflix in France on February 15, 2019. It was released theatrically and through video-on-demand in the United Kingdom on March 29, 2019, by Curzon Artificial Eye. For his performance, Dafoe was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama, among others, and won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the 75th Venice International Film Festival.
Vincent seems to always be in artistic and emotional exhaustion. He is occasionally arrested by his aesthetic responses to the landscapes around Arles, which results in his rendering them either in oil or in a sketch pad. In Arles he finds a room in a yellow house. Vincent begins to contemplate the fleeting nature of some subjects of still life. He thinks about seasonal flowers, and the artistic process which renders a permanent and eternal quality to the representation of flowers on the canvas which do not wilt and wither.
For a while, Vincent's preferred medium becomes a large sketchbook given to him by a local woman and which he begins to fill with renderings of landscapes in pen and ink. Vincent continues to ponder various philosophical and existential questions such as his desire "not to see a landscape but only the eternity behind it", and that "there cannot be such a thing as nature without there also being a meaning to nature." Vincent wishes to devote increasing time to rendering the landscapes. Vincent is angry with students he encounters when painting who mock him and his work. The teachers and their students report his behavior to parents and town officials. His brother Theo is called to Arles from Paris, and manages to get Paul Gauguin to agree to visit Vincent. Gauguin soon arrives in Arles.
Vincent is at first exhilarated by the presence of Gauguin though things quickly sour. When Gauguin thereafter announces that he will soon depart, the news crushes Vincent. He then cuts off a piece of his ear to show Gauguin his artistic allegiance to Gauguin, but Gauguin has already departed. Vincent then gives the piece of his cut ear to a prostitute who is horrified and reports him. Vincent is sent to mental hospital in nearby Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. After some time, he is released by a sympathetic supervising pastor and goes to Auvers-sur-Oise since the town authorities in Arles deny him permission to stay.
In his last months, Vincent returns to drawing and painting scenes and landscapes, now in Auvers. While painting in the courtyard of a deserted estate, two teenagers with their hunting weapons see Vincent and begin playing at cowboys-and-Indians. During the horsing around disrupting Vincent's painting an accidental shot goes off. Vincent is hit by the bullet and the boys beg him not to tell anyone. The boys then buried Vincent's painting and threw their rifle and pistol into a river while Vincent returns to Auvers. Medical help is summoned and the police make a report. Vincent states the wound is self-inflicted. Theo is called for from Paris but does not arrive in time. Upon arrival in Auvers, Theo finds his brother to have already died at the age of thirty-seven from the bullet wound he received less than thirty hours ago.
- Willem Dafoe as Vincent van Gogh
- Rupert Friend as Theo van Gogh
- Mads Mikkelsen as The Priest
- Mathieu Amalric as Dr. Paul Gachet
- Emmanuelle Seigner as The Woman from Arles/Madame Ginoux
- Oscar Isaac as Paul Gauguin
- Niels Arestrup as Madman
- Vladimir Consigny as Doctor Felix Ray
- Amira Casar as Johanna van Gogh-Bonger
- Vincent Perez as The Director
- Anne Consigny as Teacher
- Alexis Michalik as Artist Tambourin
- Lolita Chammah as Girl on the Road
- Didier Jarre as Asylum Guard
- Louis Garrel as Aurier's Article (voice)
In May 2017, Schnabel announced that he would direct a film about the painter Vincent van Gogh, with Willem Dafoe cast in the role. For the film, Schnabel adapts Naifeh and Smith's theory that Van Gogh died through the mischief of others rather than by suicide as the premise for the screenplay of the film. The film is dedicated to the Tunisian fashion designer Azzedine Alaïa.
This is a film about painting and a painter and their relationship to infinity. It is told by a painter. It contains what I felt were essential moments in his life; this is not the official history – it's my version. One that I hope could make you closer to him.
In 2011, authors Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith published a biography, Van Gogh: The Life, in which they challenged the conventional account of the artist's death. In the book, Naifeh and Smith argue that it was unlikely for van Gogh to have killed himself, noting the upbeat disposition of the paintings he created immediately preceding his death; furthermore, in private correspondence, van Gogh described suicide as sinful and immoral. The authors also question how van Gogh could have traveled the mile-long (about 2 km) distance between the wheat field and the inn after sustaining the fatal stomach wound, how van Gogh could have obtained a gun despite his well-known mental health problems, and why van Gogh's painting gear was never found by the police.
Naifeh and Smith developed an alternative hypothesis in which van Gogh did not commit suicide, but rather was a possible victim of accidental manslaughter or foul play. Naifeh and Smith point out that the bullet entered van Gogh's abdomen at an oblique angle, not straight as might be expected from a suicide. They claim that van Gogh was acquainted with the boys who may have shot him, one of whom was in the habit of wearing a cowboy suit, and had gone drinking with them. Naifeh said: "So you have a couple of teenagers who have a malfunctioning gun, you have a boy who likes to play cowboy, you have three people probably all of whom had too much to drink." Naifeh concluded that "accidental homicide" was "far more likely". The authors contend that art historian John Rewald visited Auvers in the 1930s, and recorded the version of events that is widely believed. The authors postulate that after he was fatally wounded, van Gogh welcomed death and believed the boys had done him a favour, hence his widely quoted deathbed remark: "Do not accuse anyone... it is I who wanted to kill myself." Schnabel adapts Naifeh and Smith's theory for the screenplay of the film.
According to Éntertainment Weekly, "Dafoe immersed himself in the artist's life, learning to paint, reading his letters, and ultimately shooting on location in artistically recognizable landscapes". Dafoe added, "You're not illustrating who you think van Gogh is; you're communing (with) his memory and what he's left behind... It all comes together in a swirl--a swirl of color, a swirl of light. It's not naturalistic representation. But it captures the spirit... [Van Gogh] thought art was a language; art was a way of seeing; art was a way of waking up."
In an article for 'W' magazine, Dafoe further stated, "I painted in a movie called To Live and Die in L.A., but it wasn't about painting--it was more about counterfeiting and killing people. In playing Vincent van Gogh, painting was the key to the character. I had to know what I was doing. The director, Julian Schnabel, would say, 'Hold the brush like a sword' and 'There's no such thing as a bad mark.' I began to think that painting is about making an accumulation of marks. Acting is the same: You create a character scene by scene. It's a series of marks that start a rhythm, and that rhythm sends you where you need to go." It was noted that Dafoe was 62 at the time of filming, 25 years older than Van Gogh when he died.
The soundtrack for the film was composed by Tatiana Lisovskaya. The music is predominantly for solo piano in a minimalist classical tone with occasional accompaniment by solo instruments and string quartet. The soundtrack contains 16 tracks and was released in 2018.
In May 2018, CBS Films acquired distribution rights to the film. It had its world premiere at the 75th Venice International Film Festival on September 3, 2018. It was also screened at the New York Film Festival on October 12, 2018. The film was released in the United States on November 16, 2018. It was released for streaming on Netflix in France, beginning on February 15, 2019. The film will be released simultaneously in theaters and on-demand in the United Kingdom on March 29, 2019, by Curzon Artificial Eye.
At Eternity's Gate was released on Digital HD on January 29, 2019 and on Blu-ray and DVD on February 12. Special features included an audio commentary with Julian Schnabel and Louise Kugelberg and three featurettes.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 80% based on 166 reviews, with an average rating of 7.16/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Led by mesmerizing work from Willem Dafoe in the central role, At Eternity's Gate intriguingly imagines Vincent Van Gogh's troubled final days." Metacritic gives the film a weighted average score of 76 out of 100, based on 34 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Manohla Dargis writing for The New York Times gave the film a strong review stating that the film is, "a vivid, intensely affecting portrait of Vincent van Gogh toward the end of his life, the artist walks and walks. Head bowed, he looks like a man on a mission, though at other times he seems more like a man at prayer." Adam Graham writing for the Detroit Times found the performance by Dafoe to be notable stating, "Dafoe adds another masterful performance to his resume; his work here is as deep and as piercing as his performance in The Last Temptation of Christ more than 30 years ago."
Awards and nominations
|2019||Academy Awards||Best Actor||Willem Dafoe||Nominated|
|Golden Globe Awards||Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama||Nominated|
|Critics' Choice Awards||Best Actor||Nominated|
|Satellite Awards||Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama||Won|
|2018||Venice International Film Festival||Golden Lion||At Eternity's Gate||Nominated|
|Fondazione Mimmo Rotella Award||Willem Dafoe and Julian Schnabel||Won|
|Green Drop Award||Won|
|Volpi Cup for Best Actor||Willem Dafoe||Won|
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