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At Eternity’s Gate

A love letter to the achievement and tragedy of a great artist
© CBS Films Willem Dafoe plays tortured artist Vincent van Gogh.
     In 1888, Vincent van Gogh (Willem Dafoe) wearied of the Paris art scene. The Impressionists want all artists to see as they do, no one buys his paintings and he hates the grey light of the city. Depression and mania are rising; even with the support of his brother, he can’t find his footing. 
     Taking advice from his avant-garde friend Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac), van Gogh travels south to Arles. In the midst of the countryside, he sees the color of life. Even as he finds his way artistically, madness haunts him.
     This reflection on van Gogh’s glorious madness is more visual poem than biopic. Director Julian Schnabel (Miral) mined letters, paintings and historical documents to create a film that tries to capture what it felt like inside the painter’s head. Schnabel works within the color palette van Gogh used in Arles: glowing yellows and deep blues dancing in the sunlight. Sounds are heightened and colors are richer, as if the countryside is a different universe than Paris. 
     This cacophony of color and sound creates not only great beauty but also confusion. Schnabel keeps the camera moving, giving each frame a frenetic, manic energy. If you find handheld camera work hard on the equilibrium, several shaky sequences may turn your stomach. 
     Though Dafoe is nearly three decades older than van Gogh when he died, he conveys the delicate spirit and the passionate need to paint that drove the artist. The actor embodies the exquisite torture of being a genius in a world that can’t understand you. The greatest tragedy in van Gogh’s life, the film argues, was knowing that he didn’t belong in the world around him. His every effort to connect failed — even his relationship with the passionate, opinionated Gauguin. 
     Don’t go expecting a straightforward biography. At Eternity’s Gate is an exceptionally moving film about the mental strife of being a genius, trying to explain what it’s like to have lightning in a bottle inside your head. 
Good Drama • PG-13 • 111 mins.
 
~~~ New this Week ~~~
Mortal Engines 
     When civilization collapses, massive mobile cities roam the world to devour all life in their path. The only hope for civilization is Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), a woman whose mother died protecting her and the secret to stopping London’s ravages. Assembling a band of misfits, Hester sets out to fulfill her destiny and restore civilization. 
     The latest in a long belabored line of post-apocalyptic teen fiction, this probably won’t appeal to anyone not studying for their learner’s permit. 
Prospects: Dim • PG-13 • 128 mins. 
 
The Mule
     There’s not much left for Earl (Clint Eastwood). No family is speaking to him, he’s got no money and it’s hard to start over again when you’re facing the latter half of your 80s. 
     Earl takes a driving job that seems too good to be true — and is. Inadvertently, he has become a drug mule for a cartel … One of the best, it turns out. Though Earl is popular with the cartel and flush with cash, his decisions, both past and current, haunt him. 
    The story and its depressing stark themes are a throwback to Eastwood’s darker films like Unforgiven and Gran Torino. Films like this can veer to melodrama. But fans of Eastwood won’t mind. 
Prospects: Flickering • R • 116 mins. 
 
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
      When Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) becomes Spider-Man, he assumes he’s unique. But soon, Miles meets Peter Parker, Gwen Stacy and a whole host of other beings with spidey senses and super powers. It turns out that all dimensions have a Spider-Man. Now all must converge to fight a threat to every dimension’s reality. 
      A clever mashup of every Marvel storyline involving Spider-Man (including a improbable Spider-Pig), this should be a rollicking hilarious watch for fans of Marvel or clever animation. The whole family will probably enjoy this movie, which has heart and an interesting style that sets it apart from common animation fare. 
Prospects: Bright • PG • 100 mins.