At Eternity's Gate

Dec 11, 2018

One of the best artist biopics ever. Van Gogh wouldn't you know!

At Eternity’s Gate

Grade: A

Director: Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly)

Screenplay: Schnabel, Jean Claude Carriere (The Unbearable Lightness of Being), Louise Kugelberg

Cast: Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project), Oscar Isaac (Operation Finale)

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 1 hr 51 min

By: John DeSando

“Never has there been a painter whose art appeals so directly to the senses.” Albert Aurier

In At Eternity’s Gate, director Julian Schnabel appeals directly to our senses, closing in on Vincent van Gogh (Willem Dafoe) to let us linger on his haunting eyes that see brilliant yellow flowers and his welcoming nostrils that pull in the Nature he saw as an emblem of beauty. Because Schnabel is an artist himself, the film, tracing the Vincent’s time before his 1890 death, has abundant shots of his actual creation on canvas.  Schnabel knows the territory, and it shows.

This is one of the finest artist biopics anyone will ever see, surpassing Lust for Life and Vincent & Theo. A beautifully photographed film with an Oscar-worthy performance by Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate deftly shows the insanity that stalked Vincent for most of his life. Although he believed darkness and a degree of madness accompany most worthwhile art, this film emphasizes the logistics of his finding the right light, for that is what he says he paints. Yet, the town of Arles in the south of France rejected his eccentricity, at one time polling to move him out by vote.

At his time in Arles, he created 75 paintings, not bad for a cranky artist whom the town despised. Thank goodness for Vincent’s few friends like Paul Gaugin (Oscar Isaac) and his brother Theo (Rupert Friend), who supported him spiritually and financially. His stints in the asylum are heartbreaking for us over 100   years later, knowing this insanity was an essential ingredient of his vibrant landscapes and intimate portraits.

Anyone who saw the gorgeous Loving Vincent, a frame by frame painted animation about his death, will want to see this work of art about an artist who is as real here as he is immortal. Relax and watch Dafoe channel the genius, whose ear slicing is left mostly out. Good, because the eyes have it in this artful interpretation.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at