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United Kingdom 2014
Directed by
Iain Forsyth / Jane Pollard
95 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Chris Thompson
4 stars

20,000 Days On Earth

Synopsis: In a stylised docu-drama, we follow musician, poet and writer Nick Cave on a fictitious journey through the 20,000th day of his life.

I wouldn’t call myself a Nick Cave fan. I’m not obsessive about him the way some are. I do like some of his writing and some of his songs and a lot of the music he creates with Warren Ellis especially the soundtracks for films like The Road, The Proposition and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Even so, I was not quite prepared for how much this film took hold of me and swept me along in its wake.  Perhaps it’s the fact that I passed my own 20,000th day earlier this year, or maybe it’s just that it’s a beautifully-made film. 

The film's conceit is as compelling as it is simple. On this auspicious day, Cave drives himself to an appointment with his psychoanalyst, to a lunch meeting with collaborator, Warren Ellis, and to a meeting with his archivists to identify some photos and footage. Through these three events we get a peek into his psychology, a peek at his creative process and a peek into his past. But it’s as he drives between appointments that the really interesting insights come from imagined or projected conversations with actor, Ray Winstone, former Bad Seeds band member, Blixa Bargeld, and pop diva, Kylie Minogue, all of whom appear as phantom passengers in his sleek Jaguar. These conversations are slightly surreal, intimate and, at times, philosophical as each explores elements of their respective relationships with Cave and their views on life.

The film is not bound by its fictional form, cutting away from this revelatory day to follow the process of creating, rehearsing and recording the Bad Seeds’ 2013 album, Push The Sky Away, culminating in a glorious live performance at the Sydney Opera House.

Although the film begins with a riveting, rapid-fire visual encapsulation of Cave’s first 19,999 days, this is no biopic. Nor is it exactly a documentary. It’s more of a meditation on the creative process, a creative life and the changing perspectives that come with age. In its stylistic nature, filmmakers Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard have given themselves license to make the most of Erik Wilson’s beautiful cinematography; his elegant imagery subtly underscored, of course, by music from Ellis and Cave. But it’s the writing from Forsyth, Pollard and Cave, as manifest in the clever structure of the unfolding day, the improvised but highly-focused dialogues and Cave’s own eloquent, lyrical voice-over that unifies these elements into a mesmerising and even moving experience. For all its fictionalisation, the film comes across with a sense of inherent truth, allowing Cave to portray himself as both certain and uncertain in equal measure and providing us with an insight into him as a man and as an artist (and even as a husband and father) in a way that feels, for the most part, more universal than particular.

20,000 Days On Earth could all so easily have ended up being an self-indulgent affair, but Forsyth, Pollard and Cave deftly navigate their way around the potential traps towards something much more meaningful. Having said all that, I suspect this is a film that will easily divide audiences. I’m just happy to have been on the side that came away feeling enriched.




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