Review: ‘20,000 Days on Earth’

Musician and writer Nick Cave stars in 20,000 Days on Earth, a modern and musical essay about time, memory and fundamental questions about the being.

The trigger of the film appears at the very beginning when Cave wakes up on his 20,000th day on earth, nearly fifty-five years old, thinking about his whole life in retrospective until this day and looking for the definition of himself. A journey of self-awareness starts with a hunt for the real Nick Cave, chasing memories with imaginary and real friends, a psychiatrist and his own archive.

The questions of ‘Who am I’ and ‘Who are we?’ will always be relevant for us from our very first day on earth, and even when not noticing it, we are starting an ephemeral journey in this world where actions come first and the reflection of consequences latter. Nick Cave is fifty-five years old and after a long career in rock and roll, the film industry and literature, he has formed a family with a beautiful wife and two kids, and it is a good moment for deep thinking.

In search of lost Cave

If 20,000 Days on Earth covers the several personas of the human being, then it is most accurate to be focused on a rock star who behaves differently on stage compared to his life as a writer, a husband, a father and in public (in the same sense that a regular person would do with his friends or at the office). His first action in the movie is to wake up, becoming conscious of his life –was he asleep this whole time? – and defining himself with a voiceover to the audience, to the world, while he writes on his typewriter. He will continue to do this during the film using the maieutic method on himself on three levels, with a psychiatrist about his intimate life and how he got into the arts during his early life; friends, imaginary and real ones, sharing personal stories that happened on tour and finally with the curators of his archive where we can see the artist on stage.

There is a subtle story on his 20,000th day on earth in Brighton that connects every discussion. Cave is always moving from one place to another, metaphorically re-enacting the path of his life. Wiser in his fifty-five years old he keeps looking for the next step in his life, choosing what is suitable from his past in order to come up with a brighter future. The film ends with a concert of the Bad Seeds stressing the words of the song ‘Jubilee Street’:

I’m transforming
I’m vibrating
I’m glowing
I’m flying
Look at me now
I’m flying
Look at me now

The music is a bridge that allows him to access to all that he wants. Everything in life can change, but in this case to perform live, allows him to transform into what he desires the most.

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Is this the real-life?

Documentary and fiction are all one with no clear definition between them. During the last ten years or so, several film directors started to deliberately use this form by turning it into a style pretty common nowadays in film festivals and independent cinema.

20,000 Days on Earth is aware of itself as a film and doesn’t lie to the audience by pretending to be a rare documentary about a rock star. That is just the trigger for this essay that has an actual person facing realities from his own life inside a fiction with Cave as one of the accredited writers. It is believed that Truman Capote founded the non-fiction genre by telling us a story of what he believes is true but also allowing the reader to take its own conclusions of what could really happened or not compared to fiction where the narrator is telling the truth. Aesthetic movements born in literature take a while to reach the film industry, but with this case in particular (non-fiction) it is even harder to accept the idea because people tend to believe that what is in a documentary is real. But when you think about it, a documentary is just a camera showing little pieces of reality selected by the director who made a montage afterwards purposely deciding what to show and when, using techniques from in fiction. And there is where the beauty of a certain non-fiction genre on film is found by knowing that nothing can be an absolute true and letting us to surf into the actions presented and looking for other possibilities in a deliberately construction of reality.

Life and history are constructions made upon facts that an author believes were true and there will always be another point of view for it. In our times, we are aware of that, then so the revolution of thought about who we are and why are here had already began years ago and now it is a certain fact on film as well.

The Cave Factor

His sole appearance on the poster draws attention immediately but also Cave’s terrific aura is spread all over the movie making it dense, penetrating, personal and intense. Several questions are found during the movie and from the beginning Cave’s style known in his music and literature allows the audience to take the journey with him along the 97 minutes of footage. That is how he takes the audience into a trance as an initiatory journey where some part of us will die and new things will born which is one of the purposes of art, to change people by bestowing society with tools that will allow them to express and grow. And that is one of the main goals of Cave in the life presented in 20,000 Days on Earth: I’m transforming, I’m vibrating, I’m glowing, I’m flying, Look at me now.

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