At Eternity’s Gate

Willem Defoe, Oscar Isaac Star in Van Gogh Biopic

BY: Claire Connors

Vincent van Gogh is certainly not a new subject for a director to tackle—the 19th Century painter’s life story has been made into no less than 36 films, including Lust For Life (1956) starring Kirk Douglas and Vincent and Theo (1990) with Tim Roth and Paul Rhys. But in the hands of 21st Century artist-turned director/writer Julian Schnabel, van Gogh’s final days in Arles, France, as depicted in At Eternity’s Gate, the artist’s tragic tale is as fresh as, well, a gorgeous sunflower.

Starring Willem Defoe as the tortured van Gogh, the actor may be a good 20 years older than the artist was when he died at 37, but his passionate portrayal of a man gone beautifully mad, has already earned him the Best Actor award at the 2018 Venice Film Festival, and is getting the kind of early reviews reserved for serious Oscar contenders. The film covers the last, very prolific 80 days of the painter’s life when he completed 75 paintings including his most famous of the region’s sunflowers, starry nights, wheat fields, and local characters.

Along for this colorful, almost psychedelic ride is van Gogh’s mentor, rival, and best friend, fellow painter Paul Gauguin, played by the hardest working man in cinema, Oscar Isaac (Operation Finale). Also in the cast is the sorely missed Homeland actor Rupert Friend as Theo van Gogh, Vincent’s brother and art dealer. Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal) appears briefly as the Priest and Mrs Roman Polanski, Emmanuelle Seigner, shows up as one of van Gogh’s favorite muses, Madame Ginoux. And last but not least is Schnabel’s star of his spectacular 2007 film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Mathieu Amalric as van Gogh’s psychiatric doctor, Paul Gachet.

Shot on location in Arles, Bouches-du-Rhone, and Auvers-sur-Oise, where van Gogh lived in his final days, Schnabel captures the beauty and light of the area that drew van Gogh to the town in the first place. Of course, a painter like Schnabel is able to capture the still glorious surroundings that inspired van Gogh, and you may find yourself playing “Name That Painting” as the camera lovingly observes the local beauty.

At Eternity’s Gate opens on November 16th.