By Nevin Ulusoy
“AT ETERNITY’S GATE” - VAN GOGH, THE EVERLASTING ARTIST
“I am my paintings.” This is how Vincent Van Gogh, the eternal artist describes himself. He is one of the best -known artists today, although nobody cared for his paintings when he was alive. Painting was the only way of living for him, seeing the eternity in nature, trying to be one with nature, but never copying it, painting it to show the world as it was seen in his eyes, heard in his ears, felt on his skin and soul. He did not see a landscape but the eternity behind it. Words were inadequate to express his feelings, the power of the colours and the brush was his medium and by images on the screen, we try to grasp his very being, to what extent it can be possible.
“At Eternity’s Gate” is a film about the last years of Van Gogh. It was directed by Julian Schnabel in 2018. Willem Dafoe acts as Van Gogh, Rupert Friend as his brother, his only friend on earth, Theo. We see Mads Mikkelsen, who showed great performance in “Another Round”, as a priest. The film premiered at the 75th Venice International Film Festival. Dafoe acts so brilliantly, one thinks this is Vincent talking, painting, thinking in front of us. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor. He won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival.
The film,of course, is a struggle to catch a glimpse of the artist's mind, his turning his sorrow to works of art, the wounds becoming the healer. A drop of art in the eternity of nature and the nature of art.
Van Gogh is mesmerized by nature, intoxicated by the wind, stunned by flowers. His food and drink seems to be the objects of nature, landscapes, flowers, also fields. He paints a picture in one sitting. He is in Arles, south France. We see the pain of the artist, the difficult journey in solitude on his face, in his eyes. His eyes sparkle with a light of sorrow and joy.
“There cannot be such a thing as nature without there also being a meaning to nature.”
First he draws pictures on a sketchbook given to him by Madame Ginoux. He goes into nature, works hard painting. People around Vincent find him frightening as he cannot contact them and the artistic sparkle in his eyes seem utterly strange to them. One day, as he is working, some school children and their teacher come along and make fun of him. He chases them away, but in town some boys throw stones at him. When he tries to defend himself, people in town complain about him and he is taken to a local psychiatric hospital. He is the strange one, “the painted bird” and everybody wants to see people exactly like themselves around them, they cannot tolerate even one small difference. The other people must be a mirror for them, everybody wants to see the image of themselves when they look at each other. When you look beyond, see, feel things that others cannot even imagine seeing and feeling, then you are the enemy.
He breathes in the heart of nature, cherishing the wind, the rustling of leaves on trees as the wind blows, the wind is in his soul as well. The language of the heart is with him, maybe a kind of madness, the result of being one with nature, as he indicates in the film: “ A grain of madness is the best of art.”
Gauguin comes and stays with him, but their ideas of art are rather different. Gauguin states that he wants to leave. Van Gogh is devastated by the news, he has had an idea of a group of artists working together, like the Pre-Raphaelites. He cuts off a piece of his ear to show his devotion to his art, but Gaugin is already gone. He is taken to a mental asylum. After some time, a priest talks to him and decides he is cured. He travels to Auvers, because people in Arles do not want him back. As he is painting, two boys come running, chasing each other with guns in their hands. Vincent is shot by accident. This is the idea of his biographers Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith.
In “Loving Vincent” ,another wonderful film about Van Gogh, it is stated that he committed suicide. “Loving Vincent” is absolutely amazing, it is an animation made of his pictures. It has a tinge of the detective story. In “At Eternity’s Gate”, we deal with his art and artistic ideas more. He expresses himself throughout the film, what art is for him and the relationship he wants to build between people and art, also himself. But trying to do this, he is also aware of the fact that he might be beyond his time and today we see how right he is:
“What I see nobody else sees and sometimes it frightens me. I’ll show what I see to my human brothers who cannot see them. It’s a privilege. I can give them hope and consolation.”
We see his utter loneliness, his yearning for a friendly chat. Feeling the very depths of nature, but not being able to convey it to anyone, knowing that everyone thinks his pictures as complete nonsense, unbelievably meaningless. As I write these lines, I also see how insufficient language is and the power of the visual images. He breathes in the heart of nature, cherishing the wind, the rustling of leaves on trees as the wind blows, the wind is in his soul as well. The language of the heart is with him, maybe a kind of madness, the result of being one with nature, as he indicates in the film: “ A grain of madness is the best of art.” The film,of course, is a struggle to catch a glimpse of the artist’s mind, his turning his sorrow to works of art, the wounds becoming the healer. A drop of art in the eternity of nature and the nature of art. Van Gogh died in 1850, when he was 37. His sketchbook was discovered in 2016.