At Eternity’s Gate

In the 19th century, up-and-coming artists headed for Paris, banding together to provide subsistence similar to what La Bohème portrays. Vincent Willem Van Gogh (played by Willem Dafoe), not recognized as a great artist by his contemporaries, cannot not abide how the group operates. Neither can his best friend Paul Gaugin (Oscar Isaac). After Van Gogh consults with Gaugin and his brother Theo (Rupert Friend), he retreats to Arles and later Auvers-sur-Oise, Val-d’Oise to paint landscapes, for a while joined by Gaugin. Art theory populates some of the narrative, as the genius of Van Gogh is to go beyond the popular impressionism of the day to provide an almost three-dimensional view of whatever he paints—and he paints quickly (75 oil paintings in 80 days while in Arles, 860 in his entire life). The focus is on the personality that drives him to paint, so filmviewers observe someone with social anxiety disorder (a diagnosis a psychiatrist applies to Trump) who channels his fears by painting and feels relief while in beautiful parts of France, where he sees “nothing but eternity.” However, he is treated as a freak in the countryside, and he is incarcerated in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence mental institution after slicing his ear. But the film gives a false account of his death at age 37. Directed by Julian Schnabel, a credit at the end reveals that an album of sketches confiscated from him in the 1880s was discovered in 2016. MH

ADDENDUM: Although the film gives the impression that Van Gogh left Paris for Arles because he was uncomfortable with fellow painters, the recently published book Van Gogh and Japan provides a very different explanation: After viewing paintings of Hiroshige and other Japanese painters on display in Paris, Van Gogh realized that the best way to relieve his angst as an unsuccessful painter was to commune with nature. He in fact said, “All my work is based to some extent on Japanese art.” He even tried to interpret Japanese paintings in his own genre, and the impressionists in Paris were also profoundly  impressed by Japanese art. A Japanese company returned the compliment in 1987 by buying his Sunflowers, inspired by a Japanese painting, for just under $40 million, then the highest price ever paid for a work of art at an auction.  MH