Fans of Vincent van Gogh who have been clamoring for a lifeless, inert biopic, your prayers are answered! At Eternity’s Gate, from director Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), flirts with greatness by casting the excellent Willem Dafoe as the Dutch painter, but the screenplay (by Schnabel and two others) gives him little to work with even though it takes place in the most dramatic years of van Gogh’s life, i.e., ear-cutting time. (That incident is discussed but not shown, because showing it would be too interesting.)
The depressed, mentally deteriorating Vincent admires fellow artist Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac), finds solace with his brother Theo (Rupert Friend), and has a fascinating theological conversation with a priest (Mads Mikkelsen) about how Jesus was also unappreciated in his time, but most of the film is devoted to scenes of Dafoe looking disheveled and crazy while painting, sketching, rolling around in the dirty, or doing nothing. Lush cinematography and a lovely musical score can’t compensate for a dull story that offers no insight into a brilliant, disturbed mind.