“I paint so I don’t have to think…”

At Eternity’s Gate  ****(4 Stars)

  • Opening: April 18, 2019 in Germany
  • USA 2018
  • Directed by: Julian Schnabel
  • Writing Credits: Jean-Claude Carriére
  • Principal Actors: Willem Dafoe, Rupert Friend, Oscar Isaac, Mads Mikkelsen

“I paint so I don’t have to think”, Vincent Van Gogh (Willem Dafoe) is a genius, yet has a troubled mind; both are source of his inspiration to create some of the most famous paintings the world knows today. However, in his lifetime Van Gogh was longing for this recognition, only selling one painting until his death and always dependent on the financial support of his brother Theo (Rupert Friend).

The story of “At Eternity’s Gate” is known – we won’t find any grand revelations in this film, and to reveal that Van Gogh will cut off his ear and hand it to the girl in the tavern across the street is not in the least a spoiler.  But this is not what this is about. Schnabel’s depiction of the last years of Van Gogh, which the painter mainly spent in south France’s Arles, is a beautifully orchestrated, almost meditative experience of sound and picture, mirroring, what we can only imagine may have been going on in Van Gogh’s mind. When we watch Vincent take off his dirty boots and starting to paint them in a fit of inspiration, the experience can only be described as sensual with the wind rustling through the trees, with no other sound but the paintbrush grazing the canvas in thick ductus.

The primarily used point-of-view shots pull the audience into the colorful world of Vincent and the to-eternity reaching landscape of Arles, where Van Gogh is pursuing his calling to paint, despite people misunderstanding his art as “ugly” and disturbing.

The calmness of frames with minutes of no sound but the wind rustling is time passing in serenity. Watching this film, I was there – right next to Vincent. I felt like I was accompanying him like a little devil on his shoulder, challenging him to a brighter, more powerful yellow for the fields. “not that one Vincent, more orange!” I would almost find myself whisper.

Willem Dafoe did a brilliant job in his portrayal of Vincent, the wonderous mind, the worried look, you suddenly even see that every single wrinkle in his face resembles the self-portrays of Van Gogh, you can forgive that Dafoe is almost 25 years older than Vincent was when he died.

A lovely film for anyone interested in art or just a lover of beautiful landscapes.


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