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Willem Dafoe Could Finally Win an Oscar for his Portrayal of Vincent Van Gogh in 'At Eternity's Gate'

Marion Charatan

Posted on December 15, 2018 14:59

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Actor Willem Dafoe paints a stunning portrait of the troubled and prolific artist Vincent Van Gogh in the film At Eternity's Gate.

The first time I saw Willem Dafoe on screen was in the award-winning Oliver Stone film Platoon -- the anti-war masterpiece released in 1986. Dafoe made an impression on me back then. As an actor, I thought he was raw and incredibly believable. His sunken cheekbones, expressive blue eyes and red hair gave him a unique, almost ethereal look.

Dafoe’s character in Platoon, Sergeant Gordon Elias, was trained in weaponry. However, he was gentle and compassionate toward Vietnamese villagers who were being massacred. His character was in sharp contrast to Sergeant Bob Barnes, a ne'er-do-well played by Tom Berenger. Barnes had a sadistic heart. He killed Elias, Defoe’s character, without any conscience. A young Charlie Sheen also starred in the film, based on Oliver Stone's own Vietnam wartime memories- one of an anti-war film trilogy that included Born on the Fourth of July (1989) and Heaven & Earth (1993).

Platoon won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1987 and Best Director for Oliver Stone, Best Sound and Best Film Editing for that year as well.

The 63-year-old actor has had too many career successes to list in this short opinion piece, including 68 wins and 69 nominations. What surprises me is that he has not yet garnered Academy Awards although he has earned three nominations for a coveted Oscar.

The latest role for the character actor is that of Vincent Van Gogh in At Eternity's Gate. Some critics have said this is Dafoe’s greatest role since he played Jesus Christ in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).  Dafoe got to work with Director Julian Schnabel whom he admires. The film focuses on the last days of Vincent Van Gogh.

Dafoe, 63, triumphantly portrayed a man who died at age 37, on July 29, 1890. Van Gogh had a short and troubled life, albeit artistically prolific. In the film, Van Gogh was asked what he paints by an inmate from the insane asylum he was sent to. The artist replied, “Sunlight." It only takes a quick glance of Van Gogh's works to see the influence sunlight had on him -- light radiated through his paintings. Artwork was probably an addiction for the 19th century artist- and it may well have served as a form of self-medication. Van Gogh allegedly was trapped by mental illness and alcoholism, which caused him to cut off his left ear in some type of manic snap.

Fascinating, too, that Dafoe learned to paint for the film project. A master level actor often doesn’t only study the part -- he or she becomes the character. Some have noticed there is a striking physical resemblance between Willem Dafoe and Vincent Van Gogh. Perhaps this will be the right time one Starry, Starry Night, for Dafoe to finally receive an Academy Award for this role of a lifetime. 
 
Dafoe said, simply,  in an interview in the Guardian newspaper, “I aspire to be an artist.” And that he is.

Marion Charatan

Posted on December 15, 2018 14:59

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