By Linc Leifeste | October 3, 2014
Directors: Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard
Writers: Nick Cave, Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard
Starring: Nick Cave, Susie Bick, Warren Ellis, Darian Leader, Ray Winstone, Blixa Bargeld, Kylie Minogue, Arthur Cave, Earl Cave
Equally oddball and engrossing, 20,000 Days on Earth is a blend of documentary, drama and memoir (subject Nick Cave gets a co-writing credit), purportedly giving the viewer an inside view of one day in the life (his 20,000th day on Earth, to be exact) of the legendary singer, songwriter, writer and all-around raconteur Nick Cave. Surely partly fact and partly fiction, like all good stories are, it is impossible to tell from one minute to the next which is which, but there’s little doubt the Nick Cave is playing a tautly constructed version of himself. It might be an interesting experience for big fans of Cave to try to determine just what is real and what is made up but for a casual fan like me there was no use in even trying, not that any level of Nick Cave fandom is necessary to enjoy the film.
The Australian born Cave now makes his home in Brighton, England, a perpetually dreary and overcast locale which seems to be fitting for his image and persona and is featured as almost another character in the story. The film starts with Cave waking up in bed next to his wife, Susie, and ends with him enjoying pizza and a home screening of Scarface on the couch with his two sons to close the day. In between we’re treated to a visit to his therapist, a visit to the home of his bandmate Warren Ellis, a visit to his personal archive where archivists handle his materials from over the years while wearing white gloves, him driving around in his Jaguar while having conversations with people like Kylie Monogue and Ray Winstone, and him and his band in the studio working on his 2013 album Push the Sky Away.
At times pretentious, at times sublime, the film and its subject are never dull. Cave talks about his relationship with his father, his earliest sexual experiences, his former days of drug abuse and his experiences with religion (the two went hand in hand for him), his complete adoration for his wife (his marriage to whom he claims to cannibalize in his songs) and more. For me personally, the single most enjoyable part of the film is to hear Cave talk about an experience early in his career where he opened for an insanely intense Nina Simone (or is that intensely insane?) and then to hear him discuss that experience with Warren Ellis, who adds to the story by talking about her pre-show dressing room request to Ellis to bring her cocaine, champagne and sausages. A request he claims to have fulfilled. Cave’s moving telling of her transformative presence clearly shows what he longs to achieve with his own art.
It’s all an interesting take on Cave, whose identity as a family man is highlighted by the choices of how the film opens and closes, but he’s clearly presented as one that hasn’t been fully tamed. So while the film does paint a partial portrait of a father, husband and artist at mid-life, it focuses more keenly on the artist’s process of storytelling. What Cave does, possibly, is open up a bit to allow the viewer a glimpse into his creative life, into the fantasy world he has created over the years in order to reveal truths that could never be revealed via stories from his own reality. In that same vein, 20,000 Days does a bang up job of revealing the artistic truths of Nick Cave via this fictionalized snapshot of a day in his life.