At Eternity's Gate (film)

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At Eternity's Gate
At Eternity's Gate (2018 film poster).png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJulian Schnabel
Produced byJon Kilik
Written by
Music byTatiana Lisovskaya
CinematographyBenoît Delhomme
Edited by
  • Louise Kugelberg
  • Julian Schnabel
Distributed by
Release date
  • September 3, 2018 (2018-09-03) (Venice)
  • November 16, 2018 (2018-11-16) (United States)
  • February 15, 2019 (2019-02-15) (France)
  • March 29, 2019 (2019-03-29) (United Kingdom)
Running time
110 minutes[1]
  • France
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
  • English
  • French
Box office$10.5 million[2]

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 van Gogh painted Paul Gauguin (Man in a Red Beret) in 1888 in Arles. Currently at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam

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.


Amira Casar portrayed the wife of Van Gogh's brother, Theo, who would translate the letters between Vincent and Theo after the death of Vincent.


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.[3]


The film was written by Schnabel and French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière along with Schnabel's life partner Louise Kugelberg.[4][5] In regards to the story, Schnabel said:

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.[6]

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.[7]

Mads Mikkelsen portrayed the sympathethic pastor who arranged for the release of Van Gogh from recovery at hospital to continue painting in Auvers.

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.[8] 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".[9] 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."[9] 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".[10] 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."[10]

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."[11] It was noted that Dafoe was 62 at the time of filming, 25 years older than Van Gogh when he died.

A large house under a blue sky
The Yellow House, Arles, 1888. The room and house where Van Gogh resided in Arles has since been demolished and converted into a local park. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.


The film was shot over 38 days beginning in September 2017 on location in Arles, Bouches-du-Rhône and Auvers-sur-Oise, France, all locations where Van Gogh lived during his final years.[4]


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.[12]


In May 2018, CBS Films acquired distribution rights to the film.[13] It had its world premiere at the 75th Venice International Film Festival on September 3, 2018.[14][15] It was also screened at the New York Film Festival on October 12, 2018.[16] The film was released in the United States on November 16, 2018.[17] It was released for streaming on Netflix in France, beginning on February 15, 2019.[18] The film will be released simultaneously in theaters and on-demand in the United Kingdom on March 29, 2019, by Curzon Artificial Eye.[19]

Home media[edit]

At Eternity's Gate was released on Digital HD on January 29, 2019 and on Blu-ray and DVD on February 12.[20][21] Special features included an audio commentary with Julian Schnabel and Louise Kugelberg and three featurettes.


A seated red-bearded man wearing a brown coat, facing to the left, with a paintbrush in his right hand, is painting a picture of large sunflowers.
Paul Gauguin painted The Painter of Sunflowers: Portrait of Vincent van Gogh in 1888 in Arles. Currently at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

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."[22] Metacritic gives the film a weighted average score of 76 out of 100, based on 34 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[23]

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."[24] 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."[25]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
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[26]
2018 Venice International Film Festival Golden Lion At Eternity's Gate Nominated[27][28][29]
Fondazione Mimmo Rotella Award Willem Dafoe and Julian Schnabel Won
Green Drop Award Won
Volpi Cup for Best Actor Willem Dafoe Won


  1. ^ "At Eternity's Gate". Venice International Film Festival 2018. Venice Biennale. Retrieved July 27, 2018.
  2. ^ "At Eternity's Gate (2018)". The Numbers. Retrieved June 21, 2019.
  3. ^ Hirschberg, Lynn. "'At Eternity's Gate': Julian Schnabel Explains His Vincent Van Gogh Movie". W Magazine. Retrieved January 4, 2019.
  4. ^ a b Thompson, Anne (May 23, 2017). "Willem Dafoe as Vincent Van Gogh in 'At Eternity's Gate': Julian Schnabel Gives Us An Exclusive First Look". IndieWire. Penske Business Media. Retrieved July 29, 2018.
  5. ^ Roxborough, Scott (November 2, 2017). "AFM: SPK Pictures to Finance New Films From Julian Schnabel, Harmony Korine (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved July 29, 2018.
  6. ^ Lodderhose, Diana (May 20, 2017). "Willem Dafoe To Play Vincent Van Gogh In Julian Schnabel's 'At Eternity's Gate' – Cannes". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved July 29, 2018.
  7. ^ Boehm, Mike (October 13, 2011). New book, '60 Minutes' question if Van Gogh really killed himself. Los Angeles Times, October 13, 2011. Retrieved from
  8. ^ New revelations on Vincent van Gogh's death,, October 13, 2011
  9. ^ a b Gompertz, Will (October 17, 2011). "Van Gogh did not kill himself, authors claim". BBC News. Retrieved October 17, 2011.
  10. ^ a b Maureen Lee Lenker. Éntertainment Weekly Feb1/8, 2019. Page 56.
  11. ^ 'W' magazine. January 2019.
  12. ^ "Ate Eternity's Gate". Tatiana Lisovskaya. Release Date: November 16, 2018. Label: Filmtrax Ltd.,Total Length: 1:01:32.
  13. ^ Lang, Brent (May 14, 2018). "Julian Schnabel's Van Gogh Drama 'At Eternity's Gate' Sells to CBS Films". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved July 29, 2018.
  14. ^ Anderson, Ariston (July 25, 2018). "Venice Fest Lineup Includes Coens, Luca Guadagnino and Alfonso Cuaron". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved July 25, 2018.
  15. ^ Vivarelli, Nick (July 25, 2018). "Venice Film Festival Lineup: Heavy on Award Hopefuls, Netflix and Star Power". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved July 25, 2018.
  16. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (August 1, 2018). "New York Film Fest Closer: Julian Schnabel's'At Eternity's Gate' With Willem Dafoe As Van Gogh". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved August 1, 2018.
  17. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (August 29, 2018). "Netflix Eyes Awards-Season Theatrical Release Dates For 'Buster Scruggs', '22 July' & 'Roma'". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved August 29, 2018.
  18. ^ Cauhapé, Véronique (February 15, 2019). "" At Eternity's Gate " sur Netflix : Van Gogh, ou la fièvre de peindre" (in French). Le Monde. Retrieved February 19, 2019.
  19. ^ "At Eternity's Gate". Curzon Artificial Eye. Retrieved February 19, 2019.
  20. ^ Latchem, John (January 9, 2019). "'At Eternity's Gate' Due Digitally Jan. 29, on Disc Feb. 12 – Media Play News". Media Play News. Retrieved February 19, 2019.
  21. ^ Evangelista, Chris (February 5, 2019). "New Blu-ray Releases: 'The Girl in the Spider's Web', 'Overlord', 'At Eternity's Gate', 'Valentine', 'Cobra'". /Film. Retrieved February 19, 2019.
  22. ^ "At Eternity's Gate (2018)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved April 14, 2019.
  23. ^ "At Eternity's Gate Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved April 14, 2019.
  24. ^ Manohla Dargis. The New York Times. ‘At Eternity’s Gate’ Review: An Exquisite Portrayal of van Gogh at Work. November 15, 2018. [1]
  25. ^ "Movie review: 'At Eternity's Gate' shines light on van Gogh," Adam Graham, Detroit News. November 20, 2018. [2]
  26. ^ "2018 Nominees". International Press Academy. November 29, 2018. Archived from the original on November 29, 2018. Retrieved November 29, 2018.
  27. ^ "Venice Film Festival: Alfonso Cuaron's 'Roma' Wins Golden Lion (Complete Winners List)". Variety. Retrieved September 9, 2018.
  28. ^ "VENEZIA 75 - Il Premio Fondazione Mimmo Rotella a a Willem Dafoe e Julian Schnabel -". Retrieved September 4, 2018.
  29. ^ "Collateral Awards of the 75th Venice Film Festival". Retrieved September 9, 2018.

External links[edit]