'At Eternity’s Gate': Julian Schnabel Explains His Vincent Van Gogh Movie

The artist and director Julian Schnabel takes us inside his latest film, an ode to Vincent Van Gogh.

“My arm is in the right sleeve of that shirt, and I’m showing Willem how to hold a brush. It’s like holding a sword. Willem did his own painting in the film: He learned how to attack the canvas.”

“Paul Gauguin [played by Oscar Isaac, far left] and van Gogh had a kind of platonic love affair. For van Gogh, there was always a thin line between madness and happiness. It was too much for Gauguin, and he fled.”

“Willem was the only person who could play van Gogh. People have said he’s too old for the part, that van Gogh died when he was 37 and Dafoe was 61 when I cast him for the role. But van Gogh lived hard—his life should be measured in dog years. By the time he was 37, he was really 259.”

“Everybody thinks they know everything about van Gogh already, so why make a film about him? It’s impossible. Which is why I did it.”

“Van Gogh’s work was never recognized during his lifetime, but that didn’t stop him from doing what he felt compelled to do. In this wheat field, he felt he was a man in the right place at the right time.”

“The movie is dedicated to Azzedine Alaïa. I was with him one week before he died. He was a great artist in fashion—I did three paintings of Azzedine over the years.”

“The film’s cowriter and co-editor Louise Kugelberg [above, at left] brought her love of nature to the screenplay and production. During filming, we stayed in Arles, in a house that’s near the Alyscamps, where van Gogh often painted. At night, we could open the doors and walk straight into his world.”

“I don’t believe van Gogh killed himself. He had ordered art supplies the day before and felt quite buoyant at that time in his life. He had made 75 paintings in 80 days! Why would he end his life then?”

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