Vincent Van Gogh is a universally beloved artist who nearly everyone in the world, even those with no understanding of art whatsoever, knows. Unfortunately, the grand amount of eternal fame didn’t come to him until his death. His legacy is befouled in a way, focusing quite a bit on the infamous ear incident, which has mostly been twisted in a decades-long game of telephone into something nowhere near the actual truth. At Eternity’s Gate is the most honest homage to Van Gogh that I’m sure he would be proud, if he were here to see it.
Julian Schnabel is the perfect person to direct a film based on Vincent Van Gogh’s later life, considering his prolific art career and his proven track record in creating masterful biographical films such as Basquiat and The Diving Bell and The Butterfly. At Eternity’s Gate is no exception. It’s a beautiful visual and spiritual journey through the glorious highs and devastating lows of a brilliant artist who was ahead of his time. There is even a line in the film where Van Gogh (in perhaps Willem Dafoe’s best performance) says to a priest at an asylum he’s been staying at for a while (played by powerhouse actor Mads Mikkelsen in a surprisingly calm and stoic performance) “perhaps I am painting for people who haven’t even been born yet.” Of course, that line is a little tongue-in-cheek but who knows, maybe Van Gogh had enough foresight to know that his fame lied in eternity.
“…a beautiful visual and spiritual journey through the glorious highs and devastating lows of a brilliant artist…”
At Eternity’s Gate starts with Van Gogh at a meeting for artists in Paris. An idea is floated to create a collective where all artists live and work. Artists who sell, get to work on their art the most, while the ones who don’t sell have to do the cooking, cleaning, and gardening. Vincent is there and so is Paul Gauguin, another world-renowned painter (played with all of that French masculine bravado, Oscar Isaac). Paul is very much against the idea of a hierarchy in something that is supposed to be a collective, so he leaves the meeting. Vincent goes to meet him outside after the meeting when Paul tells Vincent he should get out of Paris and head south.