If you’ve read my reviews regularly you’re probably rolling your eyes that I have reviewed yet another one of Drafthouse Films releases. It’s true that in one form or another I think I’ve covered just about everything they’ve put out in the last eighteen months, which is a pretty substantial (and amazing) list. But before you condemn me as a Drafthouse groupie let me make my case. At first glance, this is not a film that I would have normally picked to cover. Drafthouse Films has a tendency to be all over the map in their selections, sci-fi, action, foreign, Oscar nominated documentaries; not all of them are in my normal range of interest. Indeed, before viewing 20,000 Days on Earth I was not familiar with Nick Cave beyond my friend regularly playing Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds when we make food runs. However, while Drafthouse Films tastes in acquisitions may be broad, they are also excellent. This film offers something wholly unique; a collage of narrative and documentary elements that I found utterly captivating. Let’s take a look.
20,000 Days on Earth, directed by Lain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, is a canvas for Nick Cave to paint his life onto. It is a means to lay out a biography of sorts, but also let him muse on everything from his thoughts on life and aging, down to some of his most intimate fears. The film presents itself as a day in his life; working on an album (2013’s Push the Sky Away), writing, arranging, and even recording some bits. However, it’s also clear from the start that this is not a straight documentary, but a kind of meta-real musing on the past and present. Large segments meant to feel spontaneous have, I suspect, been planned out in advance with careful prompting. History and prose been woven together to tell the story in a beautiful daydream-like fashion. Even a diary he kept on something as simple as the daily weather grows into a visual metaphor for life.
One of the films more straight forward segments includes a detailed visit to his archive, featuring commentary and photos ranging from ‘The Birthday Party’ era all the way to today. In addition to the more documentary elements, there are straight up interviews between Nick and Darian Leader that play like a therapy session, going into his early memories and his thoughts about his father. There’s also a recurring sequence where Nick is driving with someone from his past, such as Ray Winstone and Kylie Minogue, they philosophize for a moment or recall a memory and then vanish from his car; as if they were never their at all.
The film is beautifully constructed and throughout it you feel like you’re on a journey, being presented his life and past as filtered through his words and music. At the same time, he never truly lets us all the way in; we are given glances of his pains and inspirations, but only as brushstrokes of the larger creation. At one point he talks about how many of his songs were inspired, not directly by people, but his memories of his time with them in a specific moment. 20,000 Day on Earth is built much the same; avoiding a simple recitation of facts and presenting us with a living visual memory of his experiences.
Thought provoking and rich, this film is a must see for fans of Nick Cave’s music or his writing. It’s poetic and carefully crafted nature will certainly also make fans out of the uninitiated. It’s an easy movie to love and is guaranteed to spur memory and imagination in every viewer. 20,000 Days on Earth opens in theaters September 17th.
Adam Ruhl is a writer and life long Cinephile. He is the Executive
Cinema Editor of Pop Culture Beast’s Austin branch; covering festivals,
conventions, and new releases. When not filing reports, Adam can be
found stalking Alamo Drafthouse Programmers for leads on upcoming
DrafthouseFilms titles. Adam once blocked Harry Knowles entrance to a
theater until he was given extra tickets to a Roman Polanski movie.