At Eternity’s Gate provides a fresh take on the story of Vincent van Gogh, giving viewers an insight into the artist’s troubled but brilliant mind without over-dramatising it.
The story follows van Gogh’s last days in Arles and Auvers-Sur-Oise France, where he struggles with his art, mental illness, religion, and his friendship with fellow artist Paul Gauguin. At Eternity’s Gate takes a slow, steady look at van Gogh’s mental and artistic development. Director Julian Schnabel’s decision to not dwell on the more well-known moments of van Gogh’s life – like when he cut his ear off – works here, because it gives viewers a chance to see what was truly driving Vincent’s psyche and his art in the last moments of his life.
Willem Dafoe’s portrayal of the artist is brilliant. His feverish emotions and struggles are etched into the lines on his face, creating a character that both attracts and repulses the viewer. He manages to express the artist’s sensibility and rapture in a very authentic way.
The film comes across as a deeply impressionist piece: it uses blurry, jumpy camera work on lush landscapes, which is paired with dissonant piano chords. The cinematography is off-putting at first, but charms you as time passes.
Viewers looking for action-packed drama will be bored, but those willing to give At Eternity’s Gate a go will experience a mighty emotional punch.