Though in Lust for Life, Vincent Van Gogh initially is concerned with spiritual matters and believes that he has a religious vocation, his mentors are Protestant ministers, and he seeks to become a Protestant missionary.  He is rejected for an inability to speak extemporaneously, and turns away from organized religion altogether, only to come to regret doing so when a Protestant minister he knew during that period of his life dies before he has a chance to patch things up with him on a personal level.  Though Van Gogh is seen to live in France, a Catholic country, visible Catholics only seem to have a walk-on role in the early part of the movie, when a biretta-wearing priest in choir dress, preceded by a few altar boys carrying the appurtenances of a procession are seen to walk down a road during an exterior scene. A bell is heard to ring while they are passing. This may have been done to alert the public that one or more of the members of the procession was carrying the Blessed Sacrament.

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However, Catholics are seen to play a more important role in Van Gogh’s life later on, when he voluntarily signs himself in to an asylum after having famously cut off his ear.  Though the asylum has a secular administrator whose personal religious leanings, if any, remain unknown to the audience, it is staffed by nuns, even though the administrator reveals that that particular asylum has 11 men among its patients. The black-garbed, traditionally-habited sisters nevertheless work with the men patients.  One visits Van Gogh’s room and intelligently discusses his current painting with him.

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Though Van Gogh’s room has a door and window with steel bars, the asylum on the whole seems to be a humane place, with cures, or at least improvement, effected by it being a safe place, with beautiful scenery (at least some gardens and stone steps and walls) to provide a rest and a safe space and time for patients to figure out how to deal with life in conventional society again.

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