Updated: Apr 10, 2021
Directed by: #SaheerAbbas
Written by: #MadhuRamanathan
As with so many eccentric artists who die before their time, Vincent van Gogh has been the subject of countless films of varying quality over the years. Cinema’s obsession with one of history’s most tortured, innovative geniuses is an understandable one – with dark, dour biopics of the Dutchman’s mental struggles offering as much potential for acclaim as fantastical and trippy pieces which seek to homage his most famous works. Death Offers Life leans to the latter end of the scale to present an intriguing, if underdeveloped exploration of the artists’ final moments.
In the midst of a deep depression, Vincent Van Gogh (Rashin Khan) awakens from his sleep to find he has been shot – and the man holding the pistol is Death himself (Anuroop Thekkumkaadan). Reacting without panic or distress, Vincent is happy to accept his fate rather than live his life as an unrecognised failure. Taken by surprise, and impressed with his calm acceptance, Death decides to offer him a choice: Rid the world of his paintings for the chance to be reborn again as an artist, or leave his paintings as a legacy, to be reborn as an ordinary man.
Death Offers Life does not pretend to aim for authenticity. The circumstances of Van Gogh’s suicide are torn up – and of course the slender red-headed Dutchman bears little resemblance to the buff, Indian Rashid Khan. However the heart of the character is what matters – and director Saheer Abbas ensures this is firmly in place.
Khan’s Van Gogh is damaged and vulnerable, yet impressively holds a control over his emotions upon his confrontation with his fate. His quick decision making when presented with Death’s choice is the ultimate example of this, and exemplifies the assurance the director has of the artist’s soul. Moments of mania and erratic outbursts conflict with this image and feel like an unfortunate effort to introduce B-movie level demonstrations of his ‘insanity’ – that pulls the rug out of an otherwise gripping performance.
The dialogue is clunky in parts and feels far too scripted. It is likely an inevitable consequence of the high concepts presented in the film’s 8-minute runtime – but does feel unnatural especially in the film’s opening exchanges. The aforementioned ‘crazy’ outbursts from Van Gogh also subtract from the rest of the tightly constructed portrayal of the artist. These are forgivable with the otherwise fine scripting of the theoretical conversation.
The film’s central theme and moral quandary – of whether it is better to create something beautiful without ever reaping the rewards, or live life as an ordinary man without the torture of one’s own genius – is a fascinating concept that is presented intriguingly – but answered all-too suddenly. Van Gogh’s certainty over his own preference is effective for the representation of the character – but it robs the audience of any time to contemplate the different outcomes of the decision. It is a shame that this is rushed through, and the director does not spend a little more time filtering this dilemma through Van Gogh’s situation.
Death Offers Life is an interesting and well-made short that presents a fascinating question to its audience through an engaging portrayal of Vincent van Gogh’s final moments. It unfortunately fails to fully develop the question at its centre, and rushes a little too much to its determined conclusion. More time to ruminate would have served the film well, and satisfied both the director’s passionate characterisation of the Dutch master and the moral complexity the film poses.