Time: 122 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Won Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (Quinn). Nominations for Best Actor (Douglas), Art Direction and Adapted Screenplay.
SYNOPSIS: A biography of the tormented Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, whose life is chronicled from his ill-fated stint as a preacher to Belgian miners in 1878, to his artistic awakening and psychological descent to suicide in 1890.
BOTTOM LINE: A powerhouse performance by Kirk Douglas brings the tortured character of van Gogh brilliantly to life in this complex and heartbreaking film. Not only does he physically look like the famous painter, but appears to crawl into and revel in his injured soul. It's a turn that teeters on the edge of overacting, yet it never becomes ridiculous because the artist is almost as well known for his madness as for his paintings. The story balances his outbursts of insanity with his clarity and passion for his art, truly capturing the ideas and reasons behind his choices and the joy he took in light and color.
Besides painting, his brother Theo is the other calming influence in his life. Though not always easy, theirs is the only normal relationships Vincent seems to have been able to form due to his obsessive need for love and acceptance only on his terms. By including the reading of Vincent's letters to Theo in the film, we get a clearer, calmer view of his thoughts and feelings that perfectly counterbalance his more radical behavior and make you feel more sorry for him than you might otherwise. It's a clever device that bridges the story between each major section of Van Gogh's life while illuminating his growing loneliness and emotional distress.
Equally intrinsic to the success of this venture is the way Minnelli incorporates the images of Van Gogh's work. The art direction accurately and beautifully captures the places where he lived and worked, giving the viewer a front row seat into his artisic inspiration and how uniquely he captured his environment. Unlike his contemporaries, he needed to be emotionally and physically connnected to his subjects before he could place them on canvas, to make the viewer feel what he did. He believed his friendship with Paul Gauguin (played with equally intense gusto by Quinn) would help his art progress, but they couldn't have been more different in their approach to life or their art and in the end the volatile nature of their relationship sent him completely over the edge.
Being continually misunderstoond and unable to find a person to share his passion he only sells one painting while alive finally drives him to take his own life. Clearly a manic/depressive he could have been truly helped in more modern times, but at what cost? His sweeping emotional states enabled him to create artwork that has made him one of the most famous painters in the world. This film brings you into his fractured genius with passion, intelligence and dignity, but it didn't make me want to invite him to dinner.