Movie Review: The Star Who Gave Us “The Starry Night”

One of Vincent van Gogh’s most famous works:  “The Starry Night,” 1889.

Release date:  2018

Review, short version:  A thumbs-up for Dafoe’s acting; a thumbs-down for dialogue decisions.

Review, long version:

After I watched At Eternity’s Gate, the 2018 movie about artist Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), I wondered:

Whom did the producers and others envision as the audience for this movie?

  • Fans of Willem Dafoe?
  • Fans of Vincent van Gogh?
  • Fans of both?

If someone saw this movie because they’re Dafoe fans, they got their money’s worth.  Dafoe does a remarkable job of both looking like van Gogh, and portraying the artist’s tortured, talented mind:


But if someone saw At Eternity’s Gate because they wanted to know more about van Gogh, they would have been better off watching a van Gogh documentary.  As it says on the DVD jacket, the movie includes “facts, hearsay and moments that are just plain invented.”

The problem is, you don’t know which is which.

I can confirm these two facts:  As portrayed in the movie, van Gogh did paint Madame Ginoux in 1888/1889 and Dr. Gachet in 1890:
LArlesienneWithBooks Portrait_of_Dr._Gachet

Another problem, and I don’t know if this was an affectation or just asinine – was the movie makers’ decisions about dialogue:

  • The movie opens with a monologue in English, no accent.
  • Followed by a scene with male artists speaking in French with subtitles.
  • Then there’s dialogue between van Gogh and man, both first in French, then switching to English, unaccented.
  • Then comes dialogue between van Gogh and female, van Gogh speaking English, no accent, she in English with French accent.

    Worn out smaller
    Van Gogh was also a prolific producer of drawings and sketches, including “Worn Out,” 1882.  Perhaps this man was worn out trying to follow the movie’s dialogue switches.

So you’ve got people speaking English with no accent; speaking English with a French accent; and speaking French with subtitles.

Why not have everyone speak English, or English with a French accent, or French with subtitles?

Mixing up language styles was both confusing and distracting, and it continued throughout the movie – van Gogh and his brother, Theo, speak English with no accent, though they’re Dutch.  Van Gogh meets a woman on a country road and they both speak French, with subtitles.

And when two young men attack van Gogh, they speak English with French accents.

Confusing and distracting.

Which brings me back to what were the facts, hearsay and inventions in this movie?

Did van Gogh cut off his ear?  Yes, he did.  But how much of it and why have a plethora of answers, none definitive.

Was “The Red Vineyard” (1888) the only painting van Gogh ever sold?

Did van Gogh commit suicide?  This is the widely held belief, though some believe otherwise, and the movie suggests murder rather than suicide.

In the movie van Gogh says, “I’m selling some paintings,” but another widely held belief is that he sold only one in his lifetime.

So here is one fact, for me, at least.  I worked at an art museum that owned four of van Gogh’s works, and I loved spending time with them.  I don’t consider them paintings – I consider them magic.

Especially his self-portraits, of which there are 39 surviving, according to Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum.  The website suggests the self-portraits “reflect van Gogh’s development, both as an individual and as an artist.”

I think they also reflect his tortured, talented mind:

Vincent_van_Gogh_-_Self-portrait_with_pipe_-_Google_Art_Project 1886 Vincent_van_Gogh_-_Self-Portrait_-_Google_Art_Project 1889
One of van Gogh’s first self-portraits, spring 1886. One of his last, September 1889.  Van Gogh died in July 1890.

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