20,000 Days on Earth (DoE) is a documentary capturing a fictitious day in the life of Nick Cave. While the film has the general purpose of taking you through the final days of the recording and release of his newest album Push the Sky Away, the focus is completely on Cave: his thoughts, his life, his past, and his writing process. Though the scenes are planned out and semi-scripted, every interaction flows organically between Cave and his variety of guests. Through narrations and sequences of old photos, you gain insight into what Cave’s introduction to the music scenes, his reflection upon the events leading to present day, and his philosophies on life and fulfillment. While all of this may seem to only appeal to the more die-hard fans of Cave or any one of his numerous other projects, DoE is not a prying look into Cave’s life; this film provides a tailored, honest introduction and summary of his character and life, without feeling like you’ve donned the rose-tinted glasses.
Days on Earth is gorgeously filmed, making the viewer feel included in the scene as a participant, not a spectator. To be honest, based on the cinematic style of DoE, I had assumed that Cave was directing. Very little about the visual style of DoE gives the impression of being a documentary. I attempt to know as little as possible going into films and for the first fifteen to twenty minutes, I wasn’t certain whether this was a documentary or clever fiction. Intimate car rides, projections on the walls, and endless reflections blend with more traditionally shot performance scenes to make a film that is very easy on the eyes.
Music, of course, takes a leading role in DoE. Chronicling Cave’s first ventures with The Birthday Party, you get a mixed sampler of Cave’s songs. This is where fans of Cave will be reveling and the uninitiated may find something new to add to their iTunes. Having not heard the newest album from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, it was particularly intriguing to watch the creative process of building the songs. It is supremely satisfying, not only watching Cave and Warren Ellis slowly shape these tunes and lyrics into the song it will become, but to then finally hear it performed with all of their hearts and souls up on stage. Days on Earth clearly demonstrates how a group like The Bad Seeds can explode into popularity in the 1980’s, then continue to grow and express for thirty years without losing steam. That said, if you’re not a particular fan of Nick Cave and somehow have stumbled into watching this documentary, you’re likely to spend an hour and a half annoying everyone by being on your phone.
I feel that some may walk away from Days on Earth thinking it is a highly stylized vanity piece and they may be right. But if it is, it’s a vanity piece that succeeds in captivating an audience by painting the picture of a talented artist as a human, not a rockstar. This documentary doesn’t glaze over flaws in its subject, but celebrates them as part of a whole. My primary complaint with DoE comes from the tendency for philosophy and personal stories to end in aloof tangents. While eighty percent of the commentary provided by Cave is philosophical wisdom to do with life, twenty percent feels more like a moody poetry reading.
Aside from a minor complaint with the commentary, 20,000 Days on Earth delivers an engrossing leap into the life and mind of Nick Cave. With beautiful cinematography and a soundtrack comprised of prime cuts from The Bad Seeds, DoE easily appeals to viewers regardless of their knowledge of Nick Cave. Blurring the lines of documentary and fictional film, Days on Earth guides audiences through an interesting overview of Cave’s philosophy, creative process, and career.
I give 20,000 Days on Earth 4 out of 5
By Blake Edwards
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