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(For Day 8 of NaPoWriMo, the prompt suggested writing a monologue from a dead person’s perspective, in the style of the Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters. I chose Vincent van Gogh.)

I painted what I saw, which is somehow not what others saw,
Though they recognized its canvas version.
The colors mattered more than details,
For the colors are the details in my mind,
Glazed over every surface and landscape
And fired in my mind’s kiln to a minor masterpiece,
If only everyone could share my eye.
They said I had my demons, but I had angels too,
Perched on each shoulder, left and right.
With my one good ear, I like to think
The worse of the two had trouble being heard.
But hearing is overrated while sight
And hue can bewitch so splendidly.

MPA rating:  PG-13 (for mature themes, nothing objectionable shown)

The only Oscar attention given to 2018’s At Eternity’s Gate may have been a Best Actor nod for Willem Dafoe, but his performance really is the film’s greatest strength. As misunderstood painter Vincent van Gogh, Dafoe proves to be a mercurial presence, given to bouts of obsession and anger while treasuring art above all. His relationship with fellow artist Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac) seems to be a friendly outlet, but the Dutchman’s apparent mental struggles only get worse in the last years of his life.

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I can’t fault the acting, but director Julian Schnabel of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly makes a few jarring creative choices with his direction and editing, which highlights the otherness of van Gogh’s perceptions but also comes off as overly artsy and surreal. Still, I wasn’t familiar with many of the details of van Gogh’s life, and my subsequent research made me recognize the many references to his most famous works throughout the film, heightening my appreciation of it. At Eternity’s Gate is a contemplative showcase of Dafoe’s talent portraying a tortured genius, and its final moments are especially evocative in representing the precious but overlooked.

Best line: (van Gogh) “Maybe God made me a painter for people who aren’t born yet. It is said, ‘Life is for sowing. The harvest is not here.’”

Rank:  Honorable Mention

© 2021 S.G. Liput
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