We all know that genius is too oftenmisunderstood, even subjected to abuse and mistreatments of all kinds. The caseof Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh is a case in point: his works are now hangingin the most prestigious museums and valued in the millions. During hislifetime, however, he had to live poorly and was the victim of a humiliating treatmenton the part of bigoted and ignorant people. Yet, he loved that simple lifeclose to nature, looking for that he moved to the small town of Arles in thesouth of France, and eventually to Auvers-sur-Orse, near Paris. The film “At Eternity’s Gate” directedby Julian Schnabel and written by Louise Kugelberg, Jean-Claude Carriere, andJulian Schnabel, highlights some of the many facets of the painter.Particularly his solitude and search for his own vision of nature.
Van Gogh (Willem Dafoe) attends a meeting of the Impressionists in Paris, but he is not really convinced by the rhetoric of the group. One vocal critic present at the meeting is Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac) who, after van Gogh indicates his intention to leave Paris in search of the sun and nature, suggests that he moves to the south of France. From that moment, the two painters would share a lifelong friendship.
The movie manages to capture very well that connection of the painter with nature, the beauty and the overwhelming power of the elements, but also the meanness of the inhabitants of the small town, except for the sympathy of a few people. Gauguin, who on one occasion visits him in the small town, made a terse but realistic description of the place and why he wouldn’t like to stay there: “Vincent, you are surrounded by ignorant people…” He only counts on the generous assistance from his brother Theo (Rupert Friend).
The relationship between van Gogh and the town people would contribute to his growing sense of alienation from that suffocating reality, and his sinking into mental illness. Eventually, interned in the St. Remy mental asylum, the painter would be treated by Dr. Paul Gachet (Mathieu Amalric) and settles in Auvers-sur-Orse. It is there where he would be shot in an incident that was never clarified: the movie makes the point that he was shot by two young guys from the town, but in his own words, he really didn’t remember anything.
“At Eternity’s Gate” provides anillustrative portrayal of van Gogh’s last years of his life, and a detaileddescription of how he worked: “fast and clear,” he would say. WillemDafoe delivers a solid performance as the tormented artist, and the photographyconveys in a very compelling way the contrast between the beauty of nature andthe darkness of the prejudiced town people. The film is recommended especiallyto those interested in art history, and in particular, in the life of one ofthe most tragic exponents of modern art.