At Eternity’s Gate

At Eternity’s Gate (2018) Director: Julian Schnabel

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The only relics we have of the troubled life of Vincent van Gogh, aside from his explosively vibrant paintings, are his dark and beautiful letters to his brother, Theo. However certain elements of his life remain something of a mystery – including the infamous cutting off of his own ear, as well as his own death, either by suicide or by some other means.

Julian Schnabel, an American artist and film-maker, pursues a controversial theory about the death of van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate, in which van Gogh is the victim of foul play, rather than suicide. Willem Dafoe plays van Gogh in this beautifully inspired film. The scenery and settings for the film are awe-inspiring. The film tells the story of van Gogh’s life as he ventures out into the rural part of Arles in southern France, and Gaugin comes and joins him, they paint together, van Gogh cuts off his ear, and he spends the rest of his life between bouts of independence and in asylums for his erratic and unstable behavior. The story suggests two boys were playing cowboys when a gun accidentally went off and shot van Gogh in the stomach leading to his death. They beg him not tell anyone of the accident. The argument goes that because van Gogh wrote in his letters of the evil of suicide and several other confusing elements, such as that his art tools were never discovered nor the fact that his paintings generally had started reflecting a more upbeat and colorful mood.

The film is excellent, despite its portrayal of a conspiracy theory regarding the death of one of the most notable yet unstable artists in the history of painting. However other great films also convey odd theories about great artist’s deaths (Amadeus). At Eternity’s Gate is a decidedly somber, yet beautifully captured tale of van Gogh’s last days.

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