Vincent was almost certainly an outcast, and the feature fails to make that as clear as it should
For all of it’s unique styling, perspective and visualisation of the life of Vincent Van Gogh, At Eternity’s Gate is very much a flawed production. It’s offer of how it believes Van Gogh lived is one of extreme ambiguity, while it pushes many of its thoughts as if they were pure fact. This leads the feature down a path of solace and soap-box style preaching that eventually results in unclear notions and poor deliverance of such a message.
Vincent Van Gogh (Willem Dafoe) is a man lost in his own mind, struggling with his mental health and how to cope with the way he feels. Drawn to painting, and those who also find joy in the artform, Van Gogh spends much of his time deep within himself or discussing his troubles with fellow experimental painter Paul Gaugin (Oscar Isaac). After suffering with extreme levels of his illness, Van Gogh is admitted to an asylum, where he attempts to overcome the difficulties that define him to an unempathetic society.
There seems to be two sides to van Gogh’s personality often used to define his character. His loneliness, and his incredible struggles with his mental health. At Eternity’s Gate seems to believe it has a strong grasp of both of these, but his loneliness far outweighs any other factor when the feature becomes a complete work. This gives the film a particularly empty feel, and however well this comes across, it leaves its sense of arthouse and individuality completely overbearing and unrealistic.
van Gogh isn’t painted as a madman, merely a lonely one, and that negatively impacts what the story tells. It uses far too much time overly playing out its scenes, without lending time to the story of the man, and how he was treated by others. This treatment very much impacted who he became, and At Eternity’s Gate seems to reference it, while attempting to merely brush it off. Vincent was almost certainly an outcast, and the feature fails to make that as clear as it should.
With too much focus on intrusive lengthy conversations with a select few, At Eternity’s Gate feels too interpretative and subtly forceful. It doesn’t understand the man as well as Loving Vincent, portraying him far more internally focused, nor does it look for how others viewed him quite as well. It offers some unique cinematography and a great understanding of filming outdoors, but essentially feels too amateur to be taken for face value in the way it ultimately needed to.
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