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Lust for Life

Lust for Life(1956)

Remind Me

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In Holland during the late 1880s, Vincent van Gogh fails his training to become an Evangelical priest, but upon pleading with the committee to put him to use, is assigned to the miserably poor coal-mining region of the Borinage in Belgium. Although Vincent is not a stirring preacher, his eagerness to ameliorate his parishioners' suffering leads him to work alongside them in the filthy, dangerous mines. After some months, the church reverends come to inspect Vincent's work and are horrified to discover that he has donated all of his possessions to the locals and is living in ascetic poverty. They strip him of his duties, but Vincent, who wants desperately "to be of use" in life and escape his past failures, remains nonetheless. After he falls into a depression, however, he is rescued by his devoted brother Theo, who sends Vincent back to their family home in Holland. There, Vincent writes Theo passionate letters about the drawings he has undertaken, a new interest that keeps the volatile Vincent in good spirits, as it allows him a method of capturing "the poetry hidden in everyday images." Vincent's widowed cousin Kay moves in with the family for the summer, and although Vincent offends her by suggesting that one year is enough for her to mourn her late husband, her presence cheers him, and soon he falls in love. At the same time, he battles with his father Theodorus, a pastor, over Vincent's new concept of God as a being one can serve through love and art rather than just through formulaic ritual. One day, Vincent confesses his love to Kay, after which she flees the house in aversion. The infatuated Vincent follows her to her family home, where he holds his hand over a candle flame to prove his devotion, only to learn that Kay has said she is disgusted by him. In a nearby bar, Vincent meets another lonely, desperate soul, a prostitute named Christine, and the two turn to each other for support and affection. Soon, they share an apartment in The Hague, along with her infant son. Eager for feedback, Vincent brings his paintings to his cousin, successful artist Anton Mauve, who encourages Vincent and provides him with color paints with which to experiment. The discovery of color and his love for Christine inspires a feverish period of creativity for Vincent. Over time, however, their hot-tempered personalities and constant lack of money prompt Christine to leave Vincent just as he learns that Theodorus has died. Vincent returns home, where he forges a new painting style inspired by the workers of the nearby fields, but his eccentric ways offend the neighbors, and soon his sister Willemien presses him to leave. With nowhere else to go, Vincent turns to Theo, who has helped support him financially over the years, and who now invites him to Paris. There, Vincent is transfixed by the local Impressionist painters, including Camille Pissarro and Georges Seurat. He absorbs their philosophies but still searches for a visual language of his own, one that will express the beauty of nature and transfer emotion to the canvas. Theo remains Vincent's greatest advocate but wearies of his brother's aggressive, obsessive personality. After Vincent meets the virile, fiery painter Paul Gauguin, he is inspired to move south to Arles in order to paint in complete isolation. There, he is soon thrown out of his rooms for using the landing as storage for his numerous paintings, so local man Roulin helps him secure a house at a reasonable price. Theo's rent money allows Vincent to paint uninterrupted, roused by the golden fields and sunlight. Autumn, however, brings winds so strong that he can no longer work outdoors, and in lonely misery, Vincent turns to alcohol for solace. He still paints day and night, often forgetting to eat. Theo, who has since married a Dutch woman named Johanna, is desperate to ease his brother's pain and so pays Gauguin to stay with Vincent in Arles. Vincent, overjoyed to have the company of his beloved role model, fails to notice Gauguin's aversion to Arles's tranquility and Vincent's obsession with art. The two men are soon squabbling regularly over their respective works and Vincent's increasing dependence on Gauguin, and one day, their fight turns physical, causing Gauguin to storm out. Crazed with grief, Vincent takes the razor he had earlier brandished at his friend and cuts off a portion of his ear. By the time Gauguin returns for his things the next morning, Vincent is near death from the blood loss. Roulin tends to him, but the locals mock Vincent, driving him to another state of collapse. Vincent begs Theo to commit him to a sanitarium in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, where Dr. Peyron diagnoses him with chronic inertia and terror. After some months, however, Vincent turns once again to painting, which proves therapeutic but does not ameliorate the epileptic seizures he now suffers. His health continues to decline over the next year at the institution, but when he feels physically stable, he asks to return to Paris. There, Theo and Johanna welcome him, distressed at his obvious health problems, and introduce him to their baby son, Vincent. Despite the news that he has sold his first painting, Vincent remains depressed and is not helped by the local therapist, Dr. Gachet. He moves to Auvers-sur-Oise, where his work becomes more assured and masterful, but his body and mind grow weaker. On 27 Jul 1890, while working on a painting of crows in a field, Vincent, overwhelmed by despair, writes a note reading "I am desperate. I can foresee absolutely nothing. I see no way out," and shoots himself in the chest. He remains alive for two days, allowing Theo enough time to race to his bedside. Theo is holding his brother tenderly as Vincent, at the age of thirty-seven, dies of his self-inflicted wounds.