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20,000 Days on Earth - Film Review

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by rujihw (subscribe)
Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans - John Lennon
Published August 13th 2014
A well-made documentary about the iconic rock star Nick Cave
How many days have you lived on earth? What did you do with this time, and what made you who you are today?

20,000 Days on Earth is a documentary film about the 20,000th day in the life of Nick Cave. For those who don't know, Nick Cave is a man of many talents; he is an Australian musician, songwriter, author, actor, and screenwriter. Most Gen-Y probably wouldn't have heard of him, but Cave is largely known for his work in the critically acclaimed rock band Nick Caves and the Bad Seeds in the 1980s.

The film portrays a fictitious 24 hours in the life of the rock icon. At the beginning of the film, Cave narrated: "I wake, I write, I eat, I write, I watch TV". We follow him through his 'day', from him waking up in the morning to him spending some quality time with his twins, watching TV and eating pizza. But that's not all this film is about.

Madman Entertainment Pty. Ltd. All rights reserved.

20,000 Days on Earth is the debut directorial feature film by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard. Cave's notebooks, which were shown in the film a few times, formed the foundation of this film. It was through those fragmented thoughts scribbled down in a notebook that Forsyth and Pollard traced the transformation of Cave's ideas. The film premiered at multiple international film festivals, and was awarded the Directing Award and Editing Award at the Sundance Film Festival 2014.

What makes it stands out from other documentary films that have been made in the past is that 20,000 Days on Earth doesn't reconstruct events that have happened, rather it staged real behaviour in fictional spaces. A lot of the scenes during the 'day' were designed to allow Cave to authentically respond and express himself freely, with minimal editorial input from the film crew, such that it preserves the spontaneity that comes with all natural conversations.

Madman Entertainment Pty. Ltd. All rights reserved.

One of the most memorable scenes for me was when Cave met with psychoanalyst Darian Leader. According to Forsyth and Pollard, the whole scene was real, with no script or rehearsal involved. I was particularly drawn to Cave's openness in this scene, where he spoke so genuinely about matters closest to his heart. I could most certainly relate to Cave when the psychoanalyst asked him, "What do you fear the most?", to which he answered, "It does worry me that I will not be able to continue to do what I do, and reach a place that I am satisfied with."

There were also times when I was so captivated by the scenery that I was reeled into the moment so naturally and effortlessly. I remember vividly the scene when Cave drove to a cottage to have lunch with Warren Ellis, his regular music collaborator in the Bad Seeds. The cottage appeared as if it was situated on a cliff, which according to Forsyth and Pollard, speaks a lot about Ellis' character and personality of 'being on the edge of something, off the grid, and close to the elements'. Later I found out that the film was set in Cave's adopted hometown of Brighton on England's South Coast, and the little cottage is situated in Seaford.

Madman Entertainment Pty. Ltd. All rights reserved.

I also especially love the scenes when Cave was driving by himself. Cave can be seen talking to another person in the car, who obviously only exists in his mind. According to Forsyth and Pollard, those scenes were to visually represent those moments our mind slip and wander to another reality. I think the filmmakers did a great job illustrating the inner monologue that goes on in our heads, especially when we are getting from places to places. I can especially identify with this because it is during those times that I can truly sift through my thought process and confront my real thoughts.

To be honest, 20,000 Days on Earth is not my usual genre of movie, nor am I a fan of Cave's eclectic music style. However, I came to know about Cave as a person through his heartfelt quotes, which formed the narrative backbone of this film. Reading more about Cave also made me realise we are more similar than we think, whether you are a rock star or ordinary people.

Here are some of the quotes I remember. "It only becomes a story when we tell it and retell it." "Acting on a bad decision is better than not acting at all". "This shimmering space where imagination and reality intersect, where all love and tears and joy exist. This is the place. This is where we live." "My biggest fear is losing memory because memory is what we are. Your very soul and your very reason to be alive is tied up in memory."

I particularly love that last quote because memories after all, are only as real as we remember them. When memories fade away, how can we be certain that we exist at all?

If anyone is interested in understanding Cave's music style prior to watching the movie, I have a good song to recommend - Push the Sky Away. It was featured a few times in the film, and a song that I have actually grown a liking to.

My verdict: This is not a film that appeals to everyone as it targets a niche audience. I did enjoy the film and think that this is a film not to be missed by Nick Cave's fans, or any cinema goers who are interested in the creative process and great storytelling. Keep in mind though that this is a documentary film, so consider yourself warned if you can't quite put your finger on a plot.

In cinemas nationwide from August 21.

NSW: Dendy Newtown, Palace Verona, Palace Norton St
Victoria: Cinema Nova, Palaca Kino, Palace Como, Classic Elsternwick
Queensland: Palace Centro
South Australia: Palace Nova Eastend
Western Australia: Luna Leederville
Tasmania: State Hobart
ACT: Palace Electric

* Rujihw was invited as a guest
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Why? Essential for all Nick Cave's fan
Where: Australia nationwide
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