Movie Review: At Eternity's Gate

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I was actually moderately excited to see this movie for a while, but at the 1/3 mark I started Googling reviews, mostly because of pure boredom. Look no further than 2007’s Mr Bean’s Holiday which in the first bits of the scene below is a carbon copy of At Eternity’s Gate (AET). Willem Dafoe, a self obsessed American movie director, at the premier of his own movie, starring himself in the South of France.

The only difference of coarse being that you get to escape Dafoe’s constantly gaping nostrils choreographed to the slow-paced honky-tonk melody of 90’s Hallmark for Mr. Bean’s edit of an extremely monotonous film.

In this clip, Dafoe ironically narrates, “What is life but a teardrop in the eye of infinity?” which is laughable and intentionally non-sensical, however the humour is lost when Dafoe does exactly the same in AET: ”When facing a flat landscape, I see nothing but eternity. Am I the only one to see it? Existence can’t be without reason.” followed by a sudden fade to black. Huh? (The last time I was in the South of France it was noticeably mountainous.)

Aesthetic

The camera work seems to be used as a metaphor for Van Gogh's descent into madness, but I would argue a case for the director’s debilitating vertigo. The use of colour, yellow in particular, is used in a manner that is equally brash and obvious.

For an art film about an artist that is known for using expressive colour and movement, this film does neither well. The artists who painted the paintings used as props deserve a medal though.

Story & Script

Van Gogh’s fading grip on reality and the confusing historical uncertainty about his death (I checked), the script and the characters are rather appropriately flat. I also think Gauguin is wrongfully made to appear quite distant and pompous and his influence on Van Gogh’s life isn’t portrayed accurately. The French dialog is mixed with English in a very contrived manner and there’s a noticeable lack of Dutch. His brother Theo had an obnoxiously annoying American accent.

Message

I totally buy the case made for ’a tortured artist’, specifically about Van Gogh and his style of painting in that era, but attached to this is a piece of casuistry romanticising mental disability. I don’t agree with the notion that crazy people are just not yet understood and will somehow one day be a guiding example of expression and liberty. But then again, this is what the folks at Hollyweird wants.

The irony of the priest at the mental asylum played by Hannibal, when he asked Van Gogh “have you ever molested a child” didn’t go unnoticed.

This movie encapsulates the reason why I am generally quite hesitant towards art films. It’s slow, smug elitism which I experienced as fake, forced and fatuous. 4/10