Review: AT ETERNITY’S GATE Is A Soothing Portrait

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Willem Dafoe as Vincent Van Gogh in Julian Schnabel’s AT ETERNITY’S GATE. Photo credit: Lily Gavin.

At Eternity’s Gate is the newest film from painter-turned-director Julian Schnabel. It is a look at the last part of the life of Vincent van Gogh. It debuted at the 2018 Venice Film Festival to positive reviews and recently earned Willem Dafoe a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama.

The story is undeniably compelling, especially if you are interested in art history. Over the course of the movie, you get to see the changes in van Gogh’s psychology and the factors that helped inspire his art. The film also explores the friendship between van Gogh and fellow artist Paul Gauguin in very interesting ways.

The film also has some very profound themes. These themes comprise a significant majority of the dialogue. This movie is very much driven by character and theme as opposed to story. Rather than focusing on the events in van Gogh’s life as a traditional biopic would, the film focuses on the ways it affected his mind and art.

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Willem Dafoe as Vincent Van Gogh in Julian Schnabel’s AT ETERNITY’S GATE. Photo credit: Lily Gavin.

That being said, the movie did cause some… unexpected rest. It isn’t that it was bad or boring — the film is just extremely soothing. There were multiple lengthy sequences in which van Gogh was walking through the beautiful French countryside. They were beautiful shots, but they were almost too peaceful.

Additionally, the movie frequently used repetition, and it wasn’t always effective. The repetition of dialogue seems to be representative of van Gogh’s deteriorating mind, and while that makes sense, it is also somewhat jarring. The film also used the device of starting in the middle of the story before returning to the beginning for no good reason.

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Oscar Isaac as Paul Gauguin and Emmanuelle Seigner as Madame Ginoux in Julian Schnabel’s
AT ETERNITY’S GATE. Photo credit: Lily Gavin.

The cinematography is great, though. It’s fitting that the movie is so visually-oriented given that the director is a painter himself. Mirroring the opinions of artists during the time, the camera paints Paris as a rough and cold place, while painting the French countryside as warm and inviting. The film is truly wonderful to look at.

The score is excellent too. Tatiana Lisovkaia’s score is just as beautiful as the visuals. It does a great job of complementing the movie and making it feel even more elegant. The film also made use of diegetic sound and silence with a great impact.

However, the best part of the movie is undeniably its performances. Willem Dafoe is at his best as van Gogh. He has recently been doing more character work, so it is nice to see him in a strong leading role. There is a lot of emotional nuance in the role, and Dafoe absolutely nails it. He is complemented by a great supporting cast including Rupert Friend, Oscar Isaac, and Mathieu Amalric.

Overall, At Eternity’s Gate was a good film with great acting, but it may be a bit too serene to hold the attention of some viewers.

At Eternity’s Gate is now playing in select theaters.

By Sean Boelman

Sean is a film student, aspiring filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include dramatic comedies, romantic comedies, heist films, and art horror.

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