November 13, 2008

What Causes the "Death of Theo" Hallucination Scene in The Eyes of Van Gogh?Pre-Production Notes for the film The Eyes of Van Gogh

As the director and screenwriter, what I wanted for this scene in my film The Eyes of Van Gogh was to capture Vincent van Gogh's overwhelming guilt for placing such a burden as caring for him upon his brother, Theo; his terrible fear that Theo would stop supporting him; the gnawing, growing doubts about the true value of his work and the sickening sense that his work is not worth the help given to him by Theo (played in the film by Gordon Joseph Weiss).

During the course of the scene the audience should sense Vincent's growing awareness that he has contributed only pain and suffering to Theo's life; his deepening conviction that he will never be able to pay Theo back and, ultimately, that the burden he is putting on Theo will kill him.

Beyond that, though, the scene reveals Vincent's tremendous need to see Theo, talk to him, touch him, reassure him. To assuage Theo's growing doubts about continuing to support him, his concerns about his family, his ill health, his job security as an art dealer.

Everything that happens to Vincent in this scene, every thought, every action, every fear has already occurred to him in a lucid, contemplative state. But here he is living it, literally, in a hallucinatory state.

The key motivating factors that drive both the scene and the character of Vincent are the first attack he had in the insane asylum at St. Remy, from which it took him three weeks to recover. He is still very vulnerable.

Five days prior to the scene, Theo wrote to tell him of the birth of his son, to whom he has given the dreaded name of Vincent. Vincent becomes acutely aware that Theo now has his own family to support. Finally, two days prior, Theo wrote to tell Vincent that his growing weakness had been diagnosed as a possible weak heart.

When Theo appears in the scene, things change dramatically. Now the scene takes on a heightened reality that represents all of Vincent's worst fears. In his hallucinatory state, van Gogh imagines all of Theo's most worrisome thoughts from numerous letters. Out of context they present horrifying pictures, though they constitute no more than 5% of the whole of the letters.

Theo, of course, obeys the logic of the hallucination.

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