Hello, my name is Daniel Merrifield, and I’m an Oscars-whore. If it’s nominated for an Academy Award, I will watch it. The Academy could nominate 2 Girls 1 Cup, and I’d watch it.
To prove how much of an Oscars-whore I am, I actually watched Suicide Squad. Twice. If that doesn’t give you a slight indication, I don’t know what will.
That’s why – after Willem Dafoe’s nomination – I had to see At Eternity’s Gate, despite knowing little to nothing about Vincent van Gogh. I mainly wanted to see them film just to see how his surname was pronounced; is it said as in “Go to the shops” or is it said as in “Goths scare the crap out of me. Can I sleep with the nightlight on again please, mother?”
At Eternity’s Gate takes a look at the life of painter Vincent van Gogh (played by Dafoe) during his final, troubled days. It’s not a straightforward biopic, but a movie pieced together by letters written by the artist as well as hearsay from people at the time. What I’m trying to say is that it could all pretty much be a load of bullshit, but it was an enjoyable watch nonetheless.
As I’ve already mentioned, I went into the screening knowing pretty much zilch about van Gogh, except for the fact that we had to paint his iconic Sunflowers while in primary school. Because nothing says ‘visionary artist’ than getting a room full of seven-year-olds to recreate your most acclaimed work.
This movie is for two people, I think – for those who aren’t too aware of the life of Vincent, it’s educational. And for those who do know about him, it’s entertaining. It’s as simple as that. There were moments where it almost seemed like At Eternity’s Gate was having in-jokes with the cultured, well-travelled viewers, and the plebs – basically, me – had to just let out a wheezy fake laugh, in an attempt to fit in. In one scene, a man posed for van Gogh, and people started to laugh at this. Why? I have no idea. I can only assume this was one of Vincent’s more famous paintings, but if they found that funny, wait until they see You’ve Been Framed. They’d need a change of underwear.
That’s not to say I was blank-faced throughout the entire two hour runtime. There were smirk-worthy moments, such as when Mads Mikkelsen’s priest shuddered as he flipped one of van Gogh’s paintings to face a wall because it was so ugly.
At times, I was actually quite confused by the storytelling. Again, I believe this to be because I was so unaware with van Gogh’s life and history. During At Eternity’s Gate, Vincent is berated and loathed by the local townsfolk; his artwork is repeatedly scrutinised and he is banished as an outsider. I didn’t know any of this happened, and it wasn’t explained during the biopic as to why he was so hated. However, At Eternity’s Gate is a stylistic movie if nothing else, and I believe that this could have been a conscious choice. Maybe we don’t see as to why Vincent was deemed as an outcast because Vincent himself didn’t understand why. This way, the audience is left just as confused as the protagonist. (Of course, that could also be me just pulling obscure theories right out of my bum. Who knows?)
Visually, as expected for a movie about an artist, At Eternity’s Gate is pretty special. Throughout the screening, it seemed as if I were watching separate movies – like when I saw Suicide Squad, but was also watching Shrek 2 on my iPad, because Suicide Squad is trash. From scene-to-scene, the entire aesthetic changes. It kept the flow refreshing and interesting, and helped you understand van Gogh’s troubled mind. While Vincent was struggling mentally, the colour palette changed completely; there was a yellow haze over the entire scene – obviously a reference to yellow featuring so prominently in his art. The cinematography also adds to van Gogh’s troubles; the camera moved in relation to his mental state. At one point, his close friend Paul Gauguin – played by Oscar Isaac – plans on leaving Vincent, and when he’s delivered the news and begins to panic, the camera shakes and wobbles wildly. It’s not until he’s calmed down that the camera shot calms down too.
Similarly, another stylistic choice I appreciated was after Vincent van Gogh’s death. (And don’t come at me with spoiler complaints; he died in 1890. If you didn’t know, you’d never know.) As he was laid to rest, no audio was played. This was a nice choice, as we have – throughout the film – followed his story with him thus far; and we couldn’t hear any music, dialogue or sound because neither could Vincent. (That, or the screening was just faulty.)
Of course, I couldn’t review At Eternity’s Gate without nodding to Willem Dafoe’s performance. He’s an incredible actor – anyone who’s seen The Last Temptation of Christ to The Florida Project could tell you that. He fully commits to his performance – which saw him garner a fourth Oscar nomination. He depicts Vincent as very deep yet, at the same, time eccentric. Willem really puts his acting chops to the test by portraying every emotion going.
While I can’t say I’ll be in a mad rush to see At Eternity’s Gate again any time soon, I will watch it again. It was confusing and took a lot in me not to just fling my arms in the air and say “What is going on now?!” But it was a beautiful movie, with an incredible performance. It was certainly an interesting watch which fascinated me. And, even better, I get to be a pretentious prick who gets to say “Oh, you watched Die Hard again this week? Pfft. Well, I saw At Eternity’s Gate, so…”