Jane Goodall is world-renowned for her study of chimpanzees in the Gombe Reserve, Africa. Incredibly, she accepted her assignment in 1962 at the tender age of 26, knowing nothing about chimpanzees or their habitat.
This magnificent film, directed by Brett Morgen, makes use of more than 100 hours of videotaped footage taken of Goodall during her early years that were somehow overlooked. Young, adventuresome and dedicated, Goodall spent her first five months in the jungle unable to contact a single chimpanzee.
What unfolds is a story you will never forget. Goodall’s interaction with the chimps results in her becoming a surrogate member of their extended family. Lured to Jane’s campsite by bananas that she left out in the open for them, they soon began to take clothing and other materials that were fun to tear apart.
Jane was eventually joined in her adventure by Hugo van Lawick, a photographer from National Geographic. They were soon attracted to one another and eventually returned to England to get married. They were a warm, handsome couple who eventually divorced when Hugo’s photographic skills left him dedicated to recording life on the Serengeti while his wife stayed in Gombe to continue her work.
Goodall gave many of the apes names, and their relationship evolved into a friendship. This became more difficult to watch when polio spread throughout the ape community, leading to paralysis and death. Be prepared to wipe away tears as you watch these scenes.
The world knew as little about chimpanzees as Jane when she arrived in Africa in 1962. She was able to discover several different colonies that used sticks to catch edible insects in the same fashion that humans use fishing poles. Unfortunately, the apes also used clubs as weapons, and she observed a war break out that left one colony decimated.
Though Jane was originally sent on her journey to try to obtain some knowledge about how Neanderthal man survived thousands of years ago, she inadvertently discovered a similar relationship between apes and humans. Given our propensity to kill one another on a massive scale across the globe, it makes you wonder what apes would be thinking if they tried to study us.
“Loving Vincent” is a unique film that may prove to be one of the year’s hidden cinematic gems. The film is a composite of the work of more than 100 artists who find a way to combine live action and animation in a fashion never seen before on the big screen. Interestingly, the actors are drawn where they don’t lose their identity.
In the eight short years that Van Gogh pursued his artistic craft, he produced over 300 paintings. Only one sold in his lifetime, and the remainder gained attention only when society awakened to Van Gogh’s genius.
After Van Gogh’s death, which was considered a suicide, Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth) sets out on a journey to deliver a letter written by Van Gogh to his brother Leo. In the process, Roulin runs into unexpected obstacles, one of which is to determine how a man could have committed suicide by shooting himself in the stomach.
Roulin’s journey was instigated by his father, a postman wonderfully played as expected by Chris O’Dowd. One of my favorite actors, and I can only encourage you to hunt down O’Dowd’s stunning contribution in the memorable 2013 film, “The Sapphires.”
In addition, the movie is also helped by the extraordinary talents of Saoirse Ronan, here playing Marguerite Gachet. Ronan’s character personally knew Van Gogh, and she provided insight to Roulin as he attempted to set aside his concerns that the artist may have been killed. Ronan is an actress of significance, and I can’t wait to see her new film “Lady Bird,” which recently arrived here in Indianapolis.
The rest of the cast make meaningful contributions, but let me just point out the performances of Robert Gulaczyk, who plays Van Gogh, and Jerome Flynn, who appears as Dr. Gachet. While Gulaczyk says very little, your heart breaks as you watch him attempt to sit in the fields working on his paintings as he was harassed by a group of local boys. In addition, you quickly realize he was a troubled man when he sent his severed ear to a brothel. At this moment many of you movie fans will recall Kirk Douglas’s role as Vincent in the 1956 film “Lust for Life.”
Flynn’s Dr. Gachet has a central role, playing a man who was close to Vincent. Roulin was able to set aside his suspicions surrounding Van Gogh’s death after directly confronting Gachet, who was present when the artist died after suffering in bed for two days.
While I fear that my review will not fully capture the genius of this film, let me just point out the poignant ending. As many who knew Van Gogh were haunted by the feeling that they could have done more to save this troubled soul, you hear the song “Vincent” being sung in the background. It was written by Don McLean and released on his 1971 album “American Pie.” It remains one of my favorite CDs to this day, and let me close by quoting some of the lyrics:
“And now I understand what you tried to say to me/
How you suffered for your sanity/
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen/
They did not know how/
Perhaps they’ll listen now.
For they could not love you/
but still your love was true/
and when no hope was left in sight on that starry, starry night/
You took your life as lovers often do;/
But I could have told you, Vincent/
This world was never meant for one/
As beautiful as you.”•
• Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis at Pence Hensel LLC as of counsel. When he is not in the courtroom or the office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.