Cinema Review – 20,000 Days on Earth

Writer and musician Nick Cave takes particular note of his 20,000th day alive and, during the course of the day, meets old friends, sorts through his past and comes a little more to terms with the person he is.

Before we go any further, I have to say that I am a huge Nick Cave fan, and his gig at the Brighton Dome last year was an enlightening and engaging experience for me. Cave is one of these artists who surrounds himself in mystery and cultivates this to some degree as it adds a certain je ne sais quoi to his music, writing and performances. What the, is the point of 20,000 Days on Earth? Is it to finally strip away a layer of the unknown about Nick Cave the person, or to find out more about his inspirations and life? Turns out, it’s really both.

Although 20,000 Days on Earth is billed as a documentary, it is a film that was, to some degree, scripted to create a somewhat fictionalised version of Cave and his life. In a way, this was to be expected, as Cave is a celebrated scriptwriter, having worked on The Proposition, The Road and Lawless. What this does is allow Cave to reveal and conceal different elements of his life, so we get a picture of a man in his 50s who has insecurities and fears, who has learned and grown from the life he has led and is curious about what the future holds for him. All of this is hashed out through conversations with his band mates, footage of recording sessions for Push the Sky Away and an admittedly staged conversation with a therapist. It is clear that 20,000 Days on Earth is not a documentary, but it is an examination of life through a distinctly Cave-y lens.

Cave, and his fellow performers in the film, come across as frank and honest, and discuss the issues of past, present and future; the issues that make us fully rounded human beings. Some sequences work better than others, and there are times where the pacing fizzles out. As well as this, some of the scenes shot as Cave and colleagues drive around Brighton feel like a reality show about a taxi driver, but then, since Cave carefully reinvents himself over and over, perhaps this is a hint at a career move to come, or perhaps it is simply a playful way to tie Cave’s fictional day together.

The film is beautifully shot and edited, making the colours and scenery bright and vibrant – even the rainy shots of Brighton – meaning that the film feels a little like a combination of a Nick cave music video, a photo essay and a snapshot of the inside of Cave’s head. Far from revealing too much about Cave, however – never meet your heroes is a phrase that comes to mind – it feels as though 20,000 Days on Earth deepens the mystery about the central subject of the film.

At times indulgent, often funny but almost always engaging, 20,000 Days on Earth is a look at the myth that surrounds Nick cave, as well as being a meditation of childhood, adulthood, life and love. Cave admits he has a tendency to be ostentatious, and there are times when this comes through in the film, but for all of its messy pacing, 20,000 Days on Earth is a curious and engaging film that is a whole lot greater than the sum of its parts.

Rating: 4/5

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