20,000 Days on Earth is a fictitious account of the 20,000th day of the life of Australian musician-songwriter-author-screenwriter-composer-actor-national treasure, Nick Cave. Filmed during the recording of his 2013 album Push the Sky Away, this documentary blurs the line between fantasy and realism; gently mocking the modern anathemas of reality television and social media, and our insecurities of having to document every sordid detail of our dreary lives for the approbation of others.
On the surface, it appears that 20,000 Days evolved organically: casual encounters with ghosts from Cave’s past; spontaneous dialogue with Bad Seed member, Warren Ellis; a stilted session with a Freudian psychoanalyst; and nostalgia for a particular moment in time while rummaging through archival material. The film is, in fact, a carefully structured collection of staged scenarios in which Cave and his contemporaries improvise within the boundaries of a storyboard.
What I surmised from this stylish documentary is that Cave is a stable and secure individual in synch with the creative process. At age fifty-six, he should be. Cave is portrayed as a self-assured and slightly pompous figure, but we can forgive him for that. After all, he is Nick Cave. He describes Boys Next Door and Birthday Party members, Rowland S Howard and Tracey Pew (who have passed away), as ‘being born already formed’; a fitting juxtaposition for himself who hints at only having just arrived. Cave has grown into his Sun in Virgo and it shows throughout the film.
Through the viewfinder that is 20,000 Days on Earth, I see the man with a Stellium of planets in Virgo (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Mars, and Pluto). There is concentrated power within a Stellium. It provides the individual with focused energy, perhaps even with tunnel vision. Indeed, 20,000 Days omits the big picture. It concerns itself with routine, and the lens captures Cave’s fondness for the nitty-gritty of writing ingeniously. He is the office worker in a respectable suit, stabbing keys on a manual typewriter like a Luddite. Words are scratched in blue ink and highlighted with fluro marker pens in bulging notebooks containing typed notes cut and pasted in the old school way. Cave’s cosmic DNA confirms that he values the practical details of work, a point not entirely missed by the filmmakers.
For me, the highpoint was Cave’s stopover at Warren Ellis’ home in France, where they share a meal of eels and black tea. It is through Ellis’ amusing anecdote of singer Nina Simone (and her addiction to champagne, cocaine, and sausages) that I grasp how meaningful and fertile their relationship is.
You have to marvel at Nick Cave. He has successfully covered ground in various art forms, yet remains a marginal and mythical figure in the music industry. 20,000 Days on Earth dispels some of the myth by showing a grounded side to the man many revere as a Goth God or whatever. With tight Moon-Pluto and Venus-Neptune aspects in his birth chart, we need to keep believing in the mythology of Nick Cave (a point that he touches on during the driving scene with the actor, Ray Winstone).