The film leaves the audience swirling through Van Gogh’s immediately recognisable French landscapes whilst familiar characters guide us through the emotional journey that lead to his tragic death. This is one for the aesthete as well as the heart-strings.
The desperate tale of a tortured artist is transformed into a deeply engaging quasi-murder mystery. The story line follows a handsome, young Douglas Booth on a mission around France, a year after the death of Vincent Van Gogh, encountering all the people upon whom Van Gogh had a curious impact on. Douglas Booth, Saoirse Ronan, Eleanor Tomlinson, Aidan Turner, Jerome Flynn and Chris O’Dowd all provide the familiar faces which emulate the characters in Van Gogh’s most famous portraits. It is they who piece together the narrative of Van Gogh’s death. Perhaps surprisingly, the commendably expressive acting is captured beautifully by the intricate brush strokes.
The themes of suicide, poverty, bullying, family, and murder provide the moral subtext. The more hard-hitting questions which arise centre around the glorification of suicide to an artist who might have seen himself as a ‘victim of the world’. However, what one really takes from the story is the realisation that every individual can be understood so differently in their varying relationships with others. The film is also a stark reminder that we, as fundamentally human, have a responsibility to be kind to one another.
An artist can only be understood through their work and in this case the paintings may always have been a hidden memoir. It feels as though the viewer is lead by the hand through a dream or a memory which illustrates the lasting impression Van Gogh wished to leave and epitomises the bitter irony of his posthumous fame.
Seven years of work and the labour of 100 artists are enough to suggest that this is an utterly ridiculous film, but it cannot be denied that it is an impressive piece of art in itself. The next time I see a painting by Van Gogh it will feel as though I was there, with him, as the paint was thrown onto the canvas.