Philosophical Reveries and Tantalizing Guitars: A Review of 20,000 Days on Earth (Forsyth and Pollard, 2014)


While 20,000 Days on Earth starts off like any regular music documentary, the film, which gives us a peek into the daily life of Australian multi-talent Nick Cave, soon starts to blur the line between fiction and reality. In directors Forsyth and Pollard’s first feature-length film, Cave, who is mostly known as a musician but who also is a literary talent and occasional actor, is tracked on his (fictitious) 20.000th day on this planet. Grown out of what was first solely meant to be promotional footage for Cave’s latest record Push the Sky Away (2013), 20,000 Days on Earth promises to convey, in the words of Cave himself, a day that is “both more real and less real, more true and less true, more interesting and less interesting than my actual day, depending on how you look at it”.

As a person who is riveted by the hauntingly charismatic persona of Cave, I was looking forward to watching this film very much and I must say I was not disappointed at all. Although I sort of hoped the film would consist of shots of Cave having eggs for breakfast, brushing his teeth and doing other regular human-being things, 20,000 Days on Earth actually digs much deeper. The film, paradoxically, not only brought me closer to the personality behind the legend that is Nick Cave, but also succeeded in leaving me more in awe of him than ever before. As the film shows, Cave indeed is someone who writes, eats, and watches TV just like us and is not constantly as dark and destructive as his live performances make him seem to be. Through cleverly edited scenes of Cave’s meetings with a psychologist and his conversations with close friends such as actor Ray Winstone, Kylie Minogue, and musicians Warren Ellis and Blixa Bargeld, directors Forsyth and Pollard manage to slightly crumble the carefully structured barricade that is Cave’s stage persona. When Cave, however, starts to philosophize about the transformative nature of performing and the art of creating, it becomes quite obvious we are dealing with someone who is artistically very gifted and this is where Cave’s more enigmatic side emerges again. In his contemplations, Cave stresses how important memory is to him, not only in his creative processes, but also in his daily life as he sees it, not merely as a collection of recollections, but a personality-shaping factor. To him, life is about recreating that one perfect childhood memory and being the curator of one’s own museum of reminisces. The film’s title highlights this idea: one’s life is not merely the sum of a few years, but a total of significant days.

Nick Cave’s 20.000th day on earth isn’t just like any other day. It’s a day filled with philosophical reveries and tantalizing guitar chords that is filmed in a very aesthetically-pleasing way. With 20,000 Days on Earth, Forsyth and Pollard created a ‘docufictional’ must-see for all fans of Nick Cave and those interested in the process of creating and (song)writing. It’s a haunting film with a fantastically ominous soundtrack that both honours Cave’s imposing oeuvre and philosophizes about “the simmering space where dream and reality intersect”.

Currently playing at Melkweg Cinema, De Filmhallen, EYE. Watch the trailer here.



Header picture courtesy of the

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