The Beauty Around Us
At Eternity’s Gate is at it’s most mesmerizing when following Van Gogh through the rural scenery of southern France. A large portion of the film follows Van Gogh- portrayed with an uncanny resemblance by Willem Defoe- as he hikes through the plowed fields and rocky cliffs of Arles. Wide camera shots of the painter capture the sheer awesomeness of nature. Swaying wheat and sunlight soaked leaves show us how Vincent perceives his surroundings. He views them with reverence, and the camera conveys that to us.
Much like looking at a Van Gogh painting one feels, fear, wonder, anxiety, and joy all at once in an overwhelming sensation. The subtleties of nature are the forefront. The movie demands that one recognize the beauty in the roots of a tree or the petals of a flower, as Van Gogh himself recognizes. Never have I been so attune to the wonders of the world as I was when watching a man trudge tiredly along a dirt road, with plains to his right and forests to his left.
I should clarify, the entirety of this movie is shot on handheld cameras. Not only that, but the camera is often used to show us exactly what Van Gogh sees; a POV (point of view). Rather than a fixated shot of Van Gogh, the camera dances around him. It is shaky, dizzying, even violent at times, but such was the mind of Van Gogh. Unhinged, the camera is tethered to Vincent as he runs, climbs, and sleeps in his dreamlike surroundings. Shots where we see what Van Gogh sees use distortions like yellow grain, blur, scratches, or shifts to black and white to highlight how he feels about what he is viewing.
I would also be remiss if I was to leave out the score. There is no bombastic opera that accompanies the imagery. The whole movie is scored to a piano (with the exception of Van Gogh’s Theme which uses a violin). At Eternity’s Gate manages to hit every emotional beat with its simplistic yet resonant music. It isn’t flashy or catchy. It’s reflective. The music throughout serves to put you further into the mindset of Van Gogh; to take a deep breath and soak in what the world is showing you.
What I’m hoping to illustrate is that nature and the emotions that surround it have never been portrayed in a way like this before. The environment around Van Gogh has a palpable weight to it. It has an unavoidable influence on him and story. Much like a painter uses the scenery around him to paint a picture, this move does the same to paint a picture of the artist Van Gogh.