20,000 Days on Earth makes for a very unique viewing experience, the film follows 24 hours in the life of the multi-talented Nick Cave. Arguably one of the most important figures in popular music, Nick Cave has fronted two legendary bands, co-scored critically acclaimed films such as The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) and The Road (2009), Cave has even proven himself as a successful screenwriter, boasting credits such as The Proposition (2005) and Lawless (2010). This is Nick Cave as we have never seen him before, part-truth and part-lie.
Cave’s 20,000th day marks the very start of middle-age for the Australian rockstar, the film attempts to shed some light on the mysterious cult of the god-like figure but ends up taking us somewhere completely different, perhaps revealing more about ourselves than Cave himself. Right from the beginning 20,000 Days on Earth begins to blend fact with fiction, it soon becomes clear that some of the events of the film have been fictionalised and the real truth remains unclear. The film does a great job of imitating reality, for example, we are led to believe that Cave is on his way to a routine visit to meet with his therapist, in reality it’s not his therapist: the man playing the therapist is none other than famed psychoanalyst and writer, Darian Leader. The therapist engages with Cave about everyday life but cuts in with difficult questions here and there, peppering us with anecdotes and personal reflections, we are teased the truth but it’s hard to spot the man from the myth.
Cave has shot down and dismissed any plans for a so-called “honest documentary” as he did not want his life invaded by a film crew for months on end, if anything, 20,000 Days on Earth satirises the artificial nature of certain rockumentaries and concert films, Cave is playing a version of himself, not too dissimilar to the people depicted in popular concert films like One Direction: This Is Us (2013) or Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (2011). 20,000 Days on Earth is very much the anti-documentary, directors Ian Forsyth & Jane Pollard purposely distance themselves from myth-making works like Searching for Sugar Man (2012) and Bill Maher’s controversial Religulous (2008)
he connects and engages with the adoring crowd in a way that’s hard to put into words, his performance at the Sydney Opera House left me in complete awe.
The rare and seldom glimpses into the real world of Nick Cave are just as fascinating as the fiction, seeing the living legend in the studio is quite incredible, Cave has a has a wondrous way of words, his voice is soulful and tortured, every syllable has some profound meaning or depth behind it. A big-budget rockumentary would have added unnecessary glamour and polish to the raw and unfinished sounds of the studio. 20,000 Days on Earth expertly uses concert footage to help remind us of what a powerhouse Nick Cave can be when performing live, he connects and engages with the adoring crowd in a way that’s hard to put into words, his performance at the Sydney Opera House left me in complete awe.
Ray Winstone and Kylie Minogue both make fleeting appearances in the film, the two of them share conversations with Cave as passengers in his car, there is no real importance to these scenes but they help make sense of the distorted reality. Winstone and Minogue have both been part of Cave’s life to some extent, they talk not of being fellow actors and musicians, but of friends and acquaintances, they talk about their fears, their hopes for the future and pretty much everything in between. These scenes paint an ugly portrait of show business and the cult of celebrity, seeing Minogue and Winston as real people helps bring the message home.
Quite understandably, 20,000 Days on Earth may prove to be an acquired taste for many, at times, the film can seem a bit pretentious and overly self-important, as if the same joke was being repeated time and time again. The film does not serve well as introduction to the music of Nick Cave, if anything, 20,000 Days on Earth is very much a treasure-trove for devoted fans; those not already familiar with Cave’s music may feel a bit isolated and left out. The cinematography and sound design is very hard to fault; the crisp and frantic editing style lends itself particularly well to the dreamlike and alien imagery. If you are looking for a straight-forward concert movie then you will walk away disappointed, however, if you are looking for something a little bit different to the standard fare then there is much to take away from 20,000 Days on Earth.