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At Eternity’s Gate had one of the more interesting titles and trailers of 2018, if not the most interesting. The trailer gives us a glimpse of what to expect. I would sum this up as, the post-impressionist artist Vincent Van Gogh (Willem Dafoe) comes to a point in his artistic life where the limits are not enough. He then seeks the ‘limitless’, as if the eternal dimension is something to be grasped. I found this fascinating and not beyond belief either. It goes that the mild mannered Van Gogh goes to Arles, in the South of France (a lovely place!), on the suggestion of fellow artist Gaugin (Oscar Isaac), to explore on his canvas the beauty of life there and touch on something more transcendent behind it all.
As if Van Gogh’s search came from a deep need or something more alive in him, but that is never explained. More earthly things preoccupy the film’s space, needless to say these are life-like – Gogh’s inability to pay his rent, his time in the asylum, a close relationship with brother who cares for him very much, the persecution that came his way from people who did not understand his art and way of life a transience that was at odds with the more accepted structured way of life – some of which are understandably heartbreaking, but the film fails to ‘go out on a limb’ and follow through with Gogh’s experience on the fringes, where the human experience behind a ‘relationship’ with eternity would have brought more flavor to proceedings. This may have been too ambitious to project successfully, but still promises much more.
However, I still appreciated the moments which do touch on the deeper life but are fewer than I would like. Gogh expresses a deep relationship with Jesus Christ, a connection that comforted his sense of feeling obscure and rejected. Yet the details let down, as Gogh inaccurately says Christ was only really known in the late first century, and earlier he was obscure, but the records show the growth of Christ’s message and his church in the early first century, as if his relationship with Christ is now something that I find less credible upon his opinion on the facts.
The overall sense I got from the film is its lack of fleshing out the spiritual theme. However, there are compensations. It is quite a sensible, suitable kind of film (one moment proves less than the rest, where Gogh and Gaugin pee while mockingly admiring nature, which goes against what the film is about). And overall, artfully produced. Willem Dafoe as Van Gogh has a presence which is captivating. Just a pity it lacks the substance in the middle. To make it complete, I would have liked a ‘capture’ of a tangible eternal reality, even from down here on earth.