Seeing a Man Better: Loving Vincent (2017), 4/4

Starry, starry night
Paint your palette blue and grey
Look out on a summer’s day
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul
Shadows on the hills
Sketch the trees and the daffodils
Catch the breeze and the winter chills
In colors on the snowy linen land

Now I understand
What you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free
They would not listen, they did not know how
Perhaps they’ll listen now

Starry, starry night
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze
Swirling clouds in violet haze
Reflect in Vincent’s eyes of china blue
Colors changing hue
Morning fields of amber grain
Weathered faces lined in pain
Are soothed beneath the artist’s loving hand

Now I understand
What you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free
They would not listen, they did not know how
Perhaps they’ll listen now

For they could not love you
But still your love was true
And when no hope was left in sight
On that starry, starry night
You took your life, as lovers often do
But I could have told you, Vincent
This world was never meant for one
As beautiful as you

Starry, starry night
Portraits hung in empty halls
Frameless heads on nameless walls
With eyes that watch the world and can’t forget
Like the strangers that you’ve met
The ragged men in the ragged clothes
The silver thorn, a bloody rose
Lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow

Now I think I know
What you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free
They would not listen, they’re not listening still
Perhaps they never will

-Don McKlean, “Vincent” 1971

(For my method for reviewing films, refer to my post entitled, “How We Become: For Levels of Personal Evaluation“.)

We all experience films in one manner or another. Some movies are fun, while others overflow with action scenes. The best possible cinematic experiences take place on a spiritual level, within us. I’ve experienced films that transcend ordinary expectations in this manner only a handful of times in my life. When I happen upon these films, I always feel drained after they end. But I also feel so excited. It is because I had, myself, a transcendental cinematic experience.

Good films tell an engaging story. Great films have superb techniques, actors, and visuals. A tour de force, or triumph in film, comes when the music, actors, and imagery combine to tell a story that captures the human essence.

Comparison of Vincent van Gogh’s painting and an artist’s rendering for the film

Loving Vincent (2017) was such an experience for me. The moment I started watching, the music and visuals drew me in and had my undivided attention. I felt as though someone had given me a special opportunity to see Vincent Van Gogh’s life. 

Hundreds of artists painted almost 67,000 oil paintings based on 54 of Van Gogh’s most famous works. By doing this, directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman gave Loving Vincent an artist’s heart. They knew it “had to be painted to get the right feeling and to be as true as possible to the spirit and the actual execution of Vincent’s work.” This feat was not possible through 3D or 2D Animation. To bring Van Gogh to life, it needed to bear marks of his artistry. Though this process took a long time, it was an undeniable labor of love. 

With the help of all the artists and techniques similar to rotoscoping animation, they created a living, breathing painting bearing the brush strokes of its artists. (For more information on the process view the film down below.)

I could explain the ins and outs of a film as technically brilliant as this, but I think it is unnecessary. To truly understand it, one must sit down and watch it. The music is beautiful, the story expertly paced, and they carefully picked the actors and actresses for each of the rolls to match Can Gogh’s original paintings. Without a doubt, this is a mesmerizing critical achievement. 

Painting depicting Vincent’s brother Theo after Vincent’s death

But that is not why I am writing this review. I often see technically engaging films and fairly beautiful ones. However, seeing this movie was different because it helped me see true humanity. It made me think how often people ignore brilliance because of ignorance, misinformation, or distraction.

I thought back on what I used to think of Vincent van Gogh. When I was a child, he was the artist I only remembered for cutting off his ear. As a young adult, my thoughts and heart often turned to him contemplatively as I studied his art because of the song “Vincent.” Now, I want to talk about HIM. I want to try and see HIM better, to know the artist I’ve admired for a long time behind rumors and misguided history.

Painting of Vincent after he cut off his ear

For all people said about him, I think very few people really SAW Vincent Van Gogh. Seeing this film brought me back to my time as a History major in college. After studying various historical figures, I realized how hard it is to understand any individual’s life based on historical records. We can read their journals or what others wrote about them. We can analyze their accomplishments or lack thereof. But even after all that, what can we truly know about their passions, griefs, thoughts, or inner feelings? And people can say and do the cruelest things when pushed by jealousy, confusion, and anger.

Neighbors and co-artists thought they knew him for his sudden bursts of anger, mood swings, mental breakdowns, and misguided passions. They drove him out, ridiculed, and rejected him. Despite desperately longing for companionship, he never married. He failed at establishing himself in a normal job or livelihood. Only one person bought a painting from him his whole career. His hundreds of other paintings piled up as years went on.

Painting of Vincent as a child
Painting of Vincent as an adult

That being said, I want to point out a few things I learned about Vincent van Gogh. I believe the vast majority of his life, he was terribly lonely. His many fatal attempts to find love, sometimes in unsavory places, is one example of this. Though he loved deeply and had an equally deep desire to BE loved, I think he did not believe in or love himself. But he always lit up when he found someone who believed in his vision and talents. His brother Theo, Dr. Paul Gachet, his daughter Marguerite Gachet, and even Joseph Roulin were such people. 

I think he was an impassioned artist who admired people and nature. I think as an artist, he wanted to capture the majesty of his subjects’ souls. He defied convention and painted the world in his own beautiful way.

Above all, I feel he wanted so desperately for people to see and understand him. I love his quote the filmmakers used at the end of the movie.

“What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart. That is my ambition, based less on resentment than on love in spite of everything, based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion. Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.”

― Vincent Van Gogh

The creators made this film for Vincent van Gogh and honored him as a man. Through brilliant artistry, they told his story so viewers could see his humanity and value his life’s work. I’m grateful I saw this movie, and I recommend it wholeheartedly to any interested in experiencing firsthand what it is like to see Van Gogh through his art as he wished.

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