At Eternity's Gate ★★★


Ambitious filmmakers have previously taken the narrative biopic form in some unconventional directions. Todd Haynes’ Bob Dylan-themed quasi-fictional anthology 'I’m Not There' (2007) is probably the gold standard for this sort “anti-biopic” – at least in the 21st century – while David Cronenberg’s 'Naked Lunch' (1991) mutated William S. Burroughs’ allegedly un-filmable novel into a de facto vision quest into the author’s unsettling headspace. French director Julian Schnabel’s new Vincent van Gogh feature, 'At Eternity’s Gate', isn’t as daring as those films, attempting as it does a relatively literal-minded representation of the Dutch painter’s subjective, cracked-prism perspective. Still, compared to a crowd-pleaser like 'A Beautiful Mind' (2001), which dubiously conveyed the symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia in the argot of a slick espionage thriller, Schnabel’s film is commendably earnest, grounded, and empathetic in its depiction of both mental illness and artistic ardor. While 'At Eternity’s Gate' adheres to the traditional view of van Gogh (Willem Dafoe) as an ahead-of-his-time visionary who suffered under the tyranny of a philistine public and his own disordered mind, the film also lends that narrative a fresh, expressive anguish...

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