A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that At Eternity's Gate is a biopic about painter Vincent Van Gogh starring Willem Dafoe. There are references to the artist's heavy drinking and destructive actions, but the movie doesn't really show these things. But social drinking is shown, as is pipe smoking. A gun is pulled out and a character is shot; a bloody wound and a dead body are seen. Children throw rocks at an adult, who grabs them and struggles with them before more adults step in and the fighting continues. Van Gogh briefly manhandles a woman, who responds with "you're hurting me!" There's a description of an ear being cut off, and a wrapping paper spotted with dried blood is shown. Dialogue includes violent references, including rape, and there's brief, mild sex-related talk, as well as the word "bastard." This is a very arty, somewhat challenging movie, and though the material is generally appropriate for most teens, it might go over better with older viewers. Also worth noting: Some of the wobbly camerawork could be difficult for those prone to motion sickness.
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What's the story?
In AT ETERNITY'S GATE, Vincent Van Gogh (Willem Dafoe) is having little success with his paintings in 1880s Paris. He meets avant-garde painter Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac), who encourages Van Gogh to travel south. In Arles, thanks to funding from his loving, supportive brother, Theo (Rupert Friend), Van Gogh rediscovers nature and starts painting his remarkable landscapes and flowers. But his drinking and turbulent behavior frequently get him in trouble. A visit from Gauguin lifts Van Gogh's spirits, but when the time comes for his friend to depart, Van Gogh cuts off his own ear with the intention of sending it to him. He winds up in psychiatric hospitals before being discharged to Auvers-sur-Oise in 1890, where Dr. Paul Gachet (Mathieu Amalric) looks after him. There, Van Gogh paints some of his most important work -- but, alas, his time left on Earth is short.
Is it any good?
Artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel's fragmented, interior look at Vincent Van Gogh's life, captured with roving, POV camerawork and experimental sound, is challenging but sometimes quite powerful. But Dafoe's deeply committed performance unquestionably drives the movie. At Eternity's Gate carefully avoids showing very many of Van Gogh's rages, instead focusing on the aftermath and his feelings and fears around his acts. The result is an appealingly sad, lost character without any of the showiness that might come in a typical biopic.
With its singular focus, however, the movie misses a chance to deepen relationships between Van Gogh and either Theo or Gauguin. But the film's deeply thoughtful dialogue, co-written by the legendary Jean-Claude Carrière, provides plenty of fascinating talk about the nature of art, painting, and existence. Schnabel also offers a meticulous, convincing re-creation of what Van Gogh's style might have been like, with many close-ups of hands applying thick daubs of paint in little spots and dashes. It adds great dimension to the paintings and makes them seem more alive, more vivid. But the often wobbly camerawork could make some viewers seasick. At Eternity's Gate joins a long list of already existing movies about Van Gogh, and it's welcome among them.
Talk to your kids about ...
What did you learn about Van Gogh's life and work from this movie? Did it inspire you to do further research?
Do you think it's necessary to be at least somewhat tortured to be a great artist? Why or why not?
In the movie, Van Gogh has a terrible fight with his friend Gauguin. Have you ever had a fight with a friend? How did this one feel similar or different?
How does this movie compare to other movies about famous artists?
- In theaters: November 16, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: February 12, 2019
- Cast: Willem Dafoe, Rupert Friend, Oscar Isaac
- Director: Julian Schnabel
- Studio: CBS Films
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Arts and Dance, History
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some thematic content
- Last updated: April 24, 2020
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