I went into this movie expecting a giant sea monster, contrary to my knowledge of the otherwise. It certainly warrants a moment of research or at least a trailer before viewing, which everyone does really. Barely a person buys a ticket without knowing what the movie is about. But the average filmgoer doesn’t get assigned ambiguous festival films I like do.
20,000 Days on Earth (from hereon called 20,000 Days) touts itself as a musical documentary, which is a more veneer than accurate description. More realistically, it is a film about a musician in the vein of a documentary – and more precisely concerning Nick Cave, ex-vocalist of the Bad Seeds and The Birthday Party. Much of it is blatantly acted, so calling it a documentary is rather lenient. Regardless, ‘they’ follow ol’ Nick around on an obviously orchestrated average day.
It’s an exploration of Cave, particularly his nostalgic recollections and brand of musical philosophy. The whole film is shadowed by an intense introspection. It likes to talk deep – sometimes to its betterment, and sometimes to its detriment. Showing you have your own design of omniscient reflection is groovy and all, but 20,000 Days is the kind of contemplation that ends up talking about nothing because it’s so lost in thought – with metaphors dragged from any intelligibility into individual obscurity and sacred relativism.
Amongst all this thinking you might wonder if this movie actually has a point, which itself provokes a wider question; do movies need a tangible goal? When people complain about this, usually I find what they really mean is there wasn’t any predictable direction or a clear antagonist to drive the conflict towards – which strikes me as narrative milk-suckling than solid food. To say a movie has no point because it hasn’t manifested its objective in a character or clear story arc, I find frustratingly facile. The state of being entertained or moved is itself the point.
It’s incredibly restrictive for a so-called creative medium to have to abide to obvious formulas of storytelling. The same reason movies do not require resolution – it’s not reflective of life that every story has a glaring goal, a happy ending or three-act structure.
Cave appears to meander from one scene to another with little perceivable intent, but this would be missing the point. 20,000 Days on Earth goes for an abstract thematic direction rather than any plot sort. It’s essentially about experiences – the ecstasy of the music, the stage and its hidden spirituality. Cave spends probably more than half the film describing such. Though much of it is ambiguously detailed, it culminates into something rather alluring when Cave plays. All the aloof articulation becomes something tangible and resonant when the choir realise what the preacher was saying. Chapter after chapter of descriptions pay off, and you understand what he was talking about – it just takes a few hard times and a dreary moments getting there.