‘At Eternity’s Gate’ Review: An Exquisite Portrayal of van Gogh at Work

A magnificent Willem Dafoe stars in Julian Schnabel’s film, a work that Manohla Dargis calls “an argument for art.”

Comments: 30

  1. I just finished a short biography of van Gogh, by Peter Burra, part of the Great Lives series from Collier Books. What was amazing about the book was how the author combined within one sentence either at the beginning or conclusion of that sentence a quote from "The Letters of Vincent van Gogh" most likely sent to his beloved brother Theo. I do love van Gogh's paintings and will look at them in a different light.

  2. If you're a van Gogh fan (as am I) strongly recommend you watch a Dr. Who episode "The Doctor and Vincent". Its a short, but very effective and moving little tale. Very much looking forward to this pic.

  3. @Jonathan Smoots Yes, that's a beautifully done episode of Dr. Who!

  4. @Jonathan Smoots: Being a Doctor Who fan, while watching this movie and having seen "The Doctor and Vincent" I expected The Doctor and Amy to appear at some time during the movie. Defoe was an amazing casting choice for Vincent. Bravo!

  5. An inspired casting choice - Dafoe himself is a bit of an energetic vagabond, a refugee from the upper midwest who doesn't quite fit into the mainstream film world, just like Van Gogh was a obsessive soul who could never fit into the Paris art scene.

  6. @Dennis Mancl Dafoe is from Queens, NYC.

  7. No, Willem Dafoe is from Appleton, WI, where, I was told by a former neighbor, his family name was always pronounced DAY-foe.

  8. I was fortunate enough to see the van Gogh exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in 1998, as well as other pieces of his at other galleries. I am by no means an art critique or expert, but van Gogh, takes me nowhere any other artist has. I look at the painting from afar, and something transcending happens. I am immersed in his world. Then if you look up close at his strokes, it's almost perplexing. To this day, I wonder, how did he do that? After going through the 98 exhibit, I recall being totally drained. not just mentally but physically. Any movie about van Gogh, would and could only be the directors and actors thoughts on the man. But never the less, I'm sure I would be intrigued.

  9. @Walter Ingram Some years ago, an artist friend of mine and I were looking at one of van Gogh's sunflower paintings at the Met. As we stepped back and absorbed how van Gogh's dramatic brush strokes emerged from near chaos into a brilliant display of flowers in a vase, my friend said, as you have, "I wonder, how did he do that?" I've walked in his footsteps in the olive groves of St. Rémy and thought, "I can look at these gnarled trees for years and never see what he saw."

  10. @Allan I felt similar experience when I stood at the site of Wheat Field with Crows. Great artists see things what I don't see. I must see this movie!

  11. I was fortunate enough to see van Gogh's work in Amsterdam back in 1978. That was 40 years ago and I still remember how vivid it was.

  12. @cl Thanks for reminding me: I was at the opening of that (then new) museum in Amsterdam in 1974 or '75. The Dutch celebrated the event with free beer for all museum-goers. Van Gogh's paintings always blow me away.

  13. It's interesting that the age difference between the actor and Vincent isn't an issue. I can't help thinking it would be if, for instance, an actress in her 60s played a 37 year old Georgia O'Keefe.

  14. @Sandy that's so progressive. Hand clap. 6 points

  15. @Sandy If his own auto-portrait is any indication, Vincent looked old by the time he hit 37. Knowing about his life will tell you why. Bringing in this notion that an 60 year old actress could not play a 37 year old Georgia O'Keefe is picking up a fight where there is none. Georgia herself could tell you than in love age made no difference. There are about five thousand love letters left behind between her and Stieglitz, a man 23 years her senior.

  16. The trailer looks so beautiful. I worry this small film will not travel so I hope Netflix will buy it and the rest of us non-New Yorkers can see it.

  17. A promising and beautiful trailer indeed. Thank you Manohla Dargis for writing this review with your exquisite choice of words.

  18. I've not seen Schnabel's film, and in this neck of the woods, I shall have to await the DVD, so I'm not making comparisons when I suggest that it's worth (re-)viewing Vincente Minnelli's 'Lust for Life' (1956). It's got most of the faults of the biopics of the period, but the photography (Russell Harlan and Freddie Young) makes it worth while. p.

  19. A dear friend in Italy shared with me that on seeing a self portrait of Vincent Van Gogh there at an exhibition, she was so overcome with emotion that she wept. As a boy of perhaps ten at a parochial school, we had the privilege of having Art class. Each week we were given a cut out image of a painting, which we pasted onto the page, and then wrote a short essay about what we thought and felt about it. My favorite was Starry Night by Van Gogh, I did not know who he was, just that his painting instantly appealed to me. I feel this class helped to instill a life long love of art, and being so drawn to being creative.

  20. @Tim B - Thanks for sharing your story. Such classes are enormously worthwhile. My mother had poetry, art, and music classes in a Queens public school when she was about 10. Somehow they had money for it back in the Depression. By the way, "At Eternity's Gate" was wonderful. The only jarring element was Julian Schnabel's version of Vincent's shoes.

  21. I am a painter or was, steeped in art history and have seen many Van Gogh movies, too many perhaps. I have also been a fan of Schnabels as a director. The movie just did't work for me, at times I cringed when Van Gogh and Gauguin were talking about painting, the dialogue reminded me of what a first year painting student would have with a friend. I actually walked out. I am glad others found enjoyment in the movie though.

  22. I consider Julian Schnabel’s work as a filmmaker to be second to none. His films are always completely original and visionary, intensely human and mesmerizing. There are lines from the scene with the priest that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Willam Dafoe was Vincent, utterly and completely. He never failed the camera, and the camera never failed him. Make more, Julian. I will always pay to see your films.

  23. I found it unwatchable due to the swinging, bouncing camera. I literally got nauseous, like I was carsick. I had to close my eyes through much of it.

  24. We were fortunate enough to see this film this afternoon at one of the two screens in the whole province (as in "provincial") of Chicago. Yes, the tricksy camera work could be troublesome and distracting, and the clanging piano chords as well. BUT Dafoe and Schnabel have made a heartfelt, visionary film not just about Vincent, but about art, about seeing like an artist, and about being a great artist. It gives you perhaps a glimpse of what it might have felt like to BE Vincent, and for that, it's worth it.

  25. Wasn't sure about seeing this movie. Suspected that it would be pretentious nonsence. Then in between nodding off I really got into it and found that it was indeed pretentious nonsense. After I came out I went on line to look at the reviews and found not only that it was pretentious nonsence, but that pretentious nonsense is infectious.

  26. @Pontefractious What's wrong with being pretentious? Without pretentiousness, or the willingness to risk it, human culture and consciousness would not exist. If you really hate pretentiousness, stay in your cave, don't risk saying or doing (or painting or filming) anything.

  27. Get inside his head and read his letters. In fact, you MUST read them to "see" his colours - many of his colours have degraded or devolved into something else - the original magic must have been head spinning. Sorry this is long but below quote from letter date May 30th 1890 - just before his death - original of course in French: The effect of daylight, of the sky, means that there is an infinity of subjects to be drawn from the olive tree. Now I looked for some effects of opposition between the changing foliage and the tones of the sky. Sometimes the whole thing is wrapped in pure blue at the time when the tree bears pale blossoms and the numerous big blue flies, the emerald rose beetles, finally the cicadas, fly around it. Then, when the more bronzed greenery takes on riper tones the sky is resplendent and is striped with green and orange; or even further on in the autumn, the leaves take on the violet tones vaguely of a ripe fig, the violet effect will be displayed in full by the oppositions of the large whitening sun in a halo of clear, fading lemon.

  28. In 2001-2002, during an 8 month period, I saw a Gaugin, Van Gogh exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago, travelled to Arles and Paris France, where I saw many of Van Gogh's works, and the locations where he painted, and ended up in Amsterdam at the Van Gogh museum. The sheer brilliance, genius, and volume of his work was overwhelming. His life is fascinating and I hope to see this movie although expecting to to reach Ecuador may be expecting too much.

  29. on netflix a must @Martyn

  30. @Martyn It is now April 1st. Seems likely that you have seen the film. If not, it is on Amazon.