‘At Eternity's Gate' Tackles an Artist Who Only Got Recognition Post-Mortem, And There Are Plenty of Them.

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Julian Schanbel's "At Eternity's Gate" tackles Vincent Van Gogh's life in deceptively simple ways. The film's eloquence derives in Schnabel's fascination with the torment Van Gogh went through, and the undue respect the impressionist painter never got. Van Gogh himself would approve of this intimate channeling -- the visions and torment that seeped through the impressionist painter's fibers are dealt with head-on by Schanbel.

Willem Dafoe‘s performance as Van Gogh is exhilarating; pouring heart and soul into the role of a man so open to ache and despair that he can't help but drive himself to passionately paint. It's all he can do. At some point Van Gogh tells a friend that he paints because it's the only way to "drain out the noise," the anxiety that would lead him to eventually cut off his own ear, something that Schnabel smartly avoids re-ennacting on-screen. 

Dafoe, now in his early 60s, is 25 years older than Van Gogh was when he died at the age of 37, but that doesn't even matter. A particularly memorable scene has Dafoe speaking to the head priest at an asylum he's been locked in. The priest, played by Mads Mikkelsen, tells Van Gogh that his work, quite frankly, stinks and that it shouldn't be considered a 'painting,' or at least what the standard definition was back in the 1880s. Van Gogh responds by saying that he feels like he's painting for people that haven't been born yet.  Suffice to say, Van Gogh changed the game, albeit posthumously. Despite not selling many of his art he was, by all accounts, ahead of his time with an impressionistic style that would be copied to no ends in the centuries to come.