A midlife crisis can be carved into something powerful at the mercy of an artist. 20,000 Days on Earth is that sculpture, its dark contemplative eyes neurotically crafted by collaborators cowriters Nick Cave and co-directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard with such skill that the Medusa of a film leaves its audience entranced.
They say a film mainly consists of two people having a conversation Cave, Forsyth and Pollard amplify this established form, testing its limits, regardless of whether the person central character Nick Cave is talking to is a figment of the psyche. As hinted at by its title, the film begins with Cave’s 20,000th day on Earth. He is presented to us as being alien to his environment, yet engrained in it. Haunting the seaside humdrum of Brighton, Cave’s transition into rural English life is made bizarre by his character- a fading eccentric in pursuit of self. Cave explains that he used to come to Brighton in his youth and for some reason or another he chose to settle there. The Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds frontman appears to have adopted its pace of life. When he talks of his career he talks in terms of relic, a distain for time’s passing bubbling beneath his words; perhaps unnoticed. Over the years he’s built a world around himself made of heroes, made of icons. Elvis and Marilyn take rule in this world which is so reflective childhood and roots that it has almost become a paracosm.
Told through staged interviews, stylised observations, imaginary conversations and subjective voiceovers Cave’s poetical midlife crisis come documentation of the creative song writing process is frequented by his fears of memory loss and disappearing and existential searching. Although, as he jokes about an old will found in an archive declaring that his money will go to the Nick Cave museum, it’s clear he’s long had a comic refusal to be forgotten.
20,000 Days on Earth plays on the documentary form, disguising drama as reality; much like its predecessors in the genre such as Punishment Park (Peter Watkins, 1971). What this film does uniquely with this relatively little explored genre is contradict aesthetics with conventions. Traditional documentary structure contradicts with a stylization which exposes its artifice, making the film a treatise on the inner workings of Nick Cave and construction of his imaginary world rather than just being explicitly a docudrama.
By no means does this mean our insight into Cave’s imagination isn’t a portrayal into reality. As Bunuel said “our memories, real or imagined, are equally as felt”. Cave’s yearning for remembrance makes for high maintenance hallucinations. Both Kylie Minogue and Ray Winston, whom he has both worked with, randomly appear in the passenger seat of his car whilst he’s driving. With no surprise, he talks to these illusions; them playing the role of interviewer and this being a vehicle for his life and emotions to weave seamlessly into the narrative.
Cinematography has added grandeur to its coastal setting. A grandeur which doesn’t fit with Cave’s description of the town- glacial winds and grey rain. Any native Brighton’s knowledge will align more with Cave’s description. This is another creative ploy in 20,000 Days on Earth; a film which blurs fiction and reality, Nicholas Roeg-esque style with documentary form and worlds- all with an unsettling ease.
Nick Cave, Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s film is a creative feat where experimentation has yielded a harvest of visual and narrative gold. 20,000 Days on Earth could be mistaken for a glory project (of its star and cowriter: Nick Cave), but the way Cave lays himself bare, delving into truths, makes it visible this film is more a searching one gets when middle age is realized; its embodiment in art and wonder, a compelling watch.