Good art makes you feel so much you can’t help but think. That is certainly true in the new movie Loving Vincent. The world’s first fully oil-painted feature film, this turns van Gogh’s creative genius into a cinematic masterpiece in its own right, inviting us to reflect upon meaning, life and love – some of the great spiritual issues that van Gogh explored through his life and art.
Loving Vincent tells the story of van Gogh’s death, but does so through the artistic language of his life. Structured as a detective mystery, it is delivered through his paintings which have been brilliantly recreated and animated by a team of over 100 artists on more than 65,000 individually painted frames. If you view the film only as a whodunit, the artistry may seem distracting. But that would be to miss what this film offers at a deeper level. For if you will surrender yourself to the beauty and brushstrokes in the imagery you will benefit from perhaps one of the most immersive transcendent experiences available in a cinema.
Through a series of conversations with those who knew him, the film draws us into the mind of this intelligent, creative, and deeply sensitive genius who was passionate about the spiritual essence of humanity and nature, whilst wrestling with his own depression and mania (today he would probably have been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder).
When watching the film, it might be helpful to know some of van Gogh’s spiritual back-story. His father and grandfather were ministers in the Dutch Reformed Church and he felt that his true calling was to preach the gospel, which he pursued with dedication, first as a student of theology and then as a missionary to coal miners in the Borinage, an impoverished region in southern Belgium. Deeply moved by the poverty around him, and passionate about following, in his words, ‘the Master who can comfort and strengthen a man’, he gave away all his possessions, including most of his clothing. However, the church authorities viewed his zealous passion as scandalous, and he was forced to leave.
Despite personal and professional rejection, van Gogh maintained his passion for the spiritual essence of humanity and nature, until his tragic death, aged just 37, the reason for which remains something of a mystery, as reflected in this profound and moving film.
He poured himself into his art, creating around 900 paintings, only one of which was sold in his lifetime. One of the most famous of these is The Starry Night. Amongst the many profound features of this painting is the fact that, whilst there are lights in the houses in the village, the church windows are dark. And, above them all, the greatest lights are the stars in the heavens above.
In an age when many people are looking for spirituality but, for various reasons, do not feel comfortable in the church, perhaps this movie will give us all hope that, even if we feel misunderstood and excluded, we can still continue to seek after meaning, life and love.
Digging deeper: For another remarkable insight into van Gogh’s famous painting see this video from The Cogito.