My first thought within the opening fifteen minutes of Dorota Kobiela’s and Hugh Welchman’s Loving Vincent was that a film this visually sumptuous deserves a better script. Or maybe that was my second thought. The film opens with a title card informing us of just how many artists it took to hand-paint the cells of the film. It’s an impressive feat. And if you can’t notice for yourself that the film is nearly as beautiful to look at as a Van Gogh painting, they’re damn sure going to tell you up front. To me, this felt needy. It screamed, please love me, please admire what we’ve done here. It’s the opposite of playing it cool, of understatement, and for most people, including myself, this type of neediness—if indeed, one reads this as neediness; and I recognize some might not—is a turnoff. Based on the opening sequences, I had to consider that maybe they’re even trying to divert attention to the image, away from story, plot, and dialogue, which begins flat, expository.

The setup follows an investigation into details surrounding Van Gogh’s death and makes use of a 2011 book, Van Gogh: The Life, authored by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, that posits Van Gogh didn’t kill himself at all, but died as the result of local youths mishandling a firearm and perhaps accidentally shooting him. To explore this possibility, the film is constructed as a sequence of interviews, similar in structure to Citizen Kane, that allows those who knew Van Gogh in his final days to relay information to the audience in the guise of dialogue. The problem here is that, unlike Kane, who is fictitious (albeit based on real-life William Randolph Hurst) and thus allows the mystery of who he was to compel the narrative forward, much of the information about Van Gogh relayed within the first fifteen minutes of Loving Vincent is well known to any casual art fan. We get Joseph Roulin detailing Vincent’s rejection by mainstream society, the cruel way in which he was treated by common people who didn’t understand him, the depth of his relationship with his brother Theo, all in a manner that comes off more like a biographer’s synopsis than actual speech. We then get Père Tanguy, an art dealer in Montmartre revealing what we all know about Vincent only selling one painting in his life and being ultimately underappreciated. So much time is taken to ensure the audience understands the well-traveled background of Van Gogh’s life and death, that my attention began to waver and wander away from the film.

Loving Vincent is essentially a biopic, and within the first fifteen minutes, it falls prey to one of the most notorious faults of the biopic: talking down to its audience. The screenwriters and directors, being unable to fathom retaining audience interest if they set us down in this world and allows us to figure out what’s going on for ourselves, instead fall victim to the tendency to overexplain. The greatest example I can think of this tendency comes not from Loving Vincent, but from Ed Harris’s Pollock, where Amy Madigan, portraying Peggy Guggenheim, stands out front of Jackson Pollock’s home, angry that he’s late for an appointment, and declares: “I am Peggy Guggenheim, I do not climb up five flights of stairs to nobody home, not I!” Just in case you didn’t realize she was Peggy Guggenheim, just to make sure the audience knows exactly who this is. (For an example of how to get this right, see Julian Schnabel’s Basquiat, where the only incidence of a character being introduced using his full name is Andy Warhol. The way it’s done, however, is much subtler, with Benicio del Toro spotting Andy Warhol exiting a limo, stopping with mouth agape, and muttering, “Yo, that’s Andy Warhol…” He, of course, doesn’t bother to name famed art dealer Bruno Bischofberger who is in this scene accompanying Andy. We’re left to figure out who he is for ourselves).

With that said, I’ll acknowledge that Loving Vincent pulled off a feat that few films, for me, can: after pushing me out of its world for the first fifteen minutes, after giving me plenty to be critical about regarding its narrative, it pulled me back in, regained my interest. Part of the reason for this, of course, is that I’d never heard the theory that Van Gogh might have been murdered, and though I’m always hesitant to buy into conspiracy theories, I also find them endlessly compelling to listen to. In this case, the vessel to unspool each thread of possible conspiracy is famed postmaster Joseph Roulin’s son, Armand, who Joseph asks to deliver a letter from the late-Vincent to, as it turns out, his late-brother Theo. While visiting Tanguy in Montmartre, Tanguy suggests he go to Auvers to visit Dr. Paul Gachet, who attended Vincent in his final days. And Armand’s visit and questioning of the local residents of Auvers drives the film’s more central question, not was Vincent murdered? but, if he did kill himself, why did he do it?

Naturally, this is difficult terrain to navigate. Even when a note is left behind, even when the apparent suicide survives his wounds for two days before succumbing and can speak and explain motive, is it ever clear why? He was crazy, some speculate. He was evil, say others. He was neglected, ignored; his art undervalued. But are these the reasons? What provided that final push? Armand’s father Joseph plants the seed of suspicion before Armand sets off, stating that in a letter Vincent sent him six weeks before the suicide, he seemed calm, happy. How does one go from complete calm to suicide in six weeks? the postmaster asks. So, it’s with some relief that Armand finds evidence to question the suicide, and it’s Armand’s persistent need to believe that such a talent wouldn’t take his own gift from the world that proves so compelling. Because this is what many of us wonder when standing before, say, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. No matter how many times it’s happened in history—Kurt Cobain, Elliott Smith, Ian Curtis—artists who flame out young and take their own gifts from us are always subject to the speculation of why.

While the film entertains the idea Van Gogh could have been murdered throughout, the final interview between Armand and Dr. Gachet seems to close the door on this theory. Gachet, throughout, has been pointed to as a source of Van Gogh’s strife, someone who called himself a friend who may have insidiously undermined him. The primary source of this speculation is an argument he and Vincent had shortly before the suicide, an argument he elucidates in the interview with Armand. He tells him the argument was about Vincent’s reliance on his brother Theo financially. He reveals that Theo’s health was failing due to advanced syphilis and that stressors, such as Theo’s concern for Vincent’s welfare, were only hastening the progress of this disease. The interview is staged with such a sense of regret on Gachet’s part that one can’t help but believe him. And by this, ultimately, believe the original verdict: that Van Gogh took his own life. It’s a strong way to end a film that started on shaky legs. But the height of emotion comes, not from this, but from an interview Armand has with Gachet’s daughter, Marguerite. Others have implied she and Vincent had a more intimate relationship, but she denies this. Rather, she admired him because he persisted. She admired him for much the same reason as Armand, because in spite of the criticism and the negativity hurled his ways, he tried to prove he was good for something. And he did, of course. It’s the reason that almost 130 years after his death, we’re still going to museums to see his work, the reason reproductions of Starry Night adorn dorm rooms everywhere, the reason people are making and we’re still watching films like Loving Vincent.