This is a re-post of our Love, Antosha review from the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. The film is now playing in limited release.
Documentaries about famous actors aren’t exactly rare, but there truly was no one like Anton Yelchin. The performer’s passion dripped off the screen with each appearance, and he amassed a tremendous and hefty filmography before his life was tragically cut short at the age of 27. The documentary Love, Antosha is a celebration of Yelchin’s life, packed with home movies and interviews with his parents Irina and Viktor as well as a vast number of Yelchin’s collaborators and friends. Indeed, one need look no further than the fact that folks ranging from Jennifer Lawrence to Kristen Stewart to Willem Dafoe were more than eager to sit down and be interviewed for director Garret Price’s film to understand just how strong of an impact Yelchin made on people’s lives. But with the revelation that Yelchin battled cystic fibrosis for his entire life, Love, Antosha also becomes a chronicle of a true artist who made the absolute most of the limited time he knew he’d have on Earth.
It’s clear early on in Love, Antosha that Anton Yelchin was a genuine cinephile. Not only is the film littered with home movies made by Yelchin at a very young age, but also his diary entries and lists (not to mention testimonials from his family) underline just how serious he took his film education. It was his Russian immigrant parents who first introduced Yelchin to films like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Mean Streets, and afterwards Yelchin took it upon himself to further his film education on his own. He reached all the way back to the silent era and was constantly consuming films from the Golden Age of Hollywood, the French New Wave, Asian cinema, and much more. Not only that, but Yelchin took detailed notes throughout each viewing, working to understand the craft behind the filmmaking on display.
Yelchin approached not just film acting but the entire world with this kind of intense education. Person after person interviewed points out that Yelchin struck them as an “old soul” or “wise beyond his years,” as he’d regularly be discussing books, philosophy, or art with his co-stars. Indeed, Kristen Stewart confesses in the documentary that when a 15-year-old Yelchin asked a 14-year-old Stewart what book she was reading, it sparked an inner crisis for the actress who felt like she needed to be doing more to seek out great art. And Chris Pine recalls one time on the set of Star Trek when Yelchin shrugged off going to Pine’s trailer to jam on guitar in favor of translating and taking notes on a Russian philosophy book.
This eagerness to consume and learn as much as possible, and to edify himself, is a running theme throughout Love, Antosha. Yelchin was constantly searching, exploring, and looking for ways to expand beyond his own horizons. This expanded to Yelchin’s photography once Yelchin got older, and friends and collaborators reflect on how Yelchin would visit sex clubs on the weekends to take provocative photographs. As J.J. Abrams puts it in the film, when Chris Pine is telling you he can’t believe what Anton did on the weekend, you know it’s something crazy.
And yet this zest for life went hand-in-hand with what could potentially be an early death sentence for Anton. He was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when he was a child, but his parents made the decision not to inform Yelchin until he was older, so he wouldn’t be consumed with thinking about the disease as young child. Throughout his life he suffered problems breathing and had to conduct breathing exercises, which became tougher and tougher when Yelchin began making more action-heavy films like Terminator: Salvation and Fright Night. Yelchin was fully aware that those suffering from CF live far shorter lives than those who don’t, and indeed his close friends confess that during the last couple of years and months before his passing, Yelchin was talking more openly about his disease and his fears.
It’s clear that, knowing he had CF, Yelchin was living life as fully as he possibly could. Pine describes him as always pushing and searching and discovering, and indeed his constant consumption of literature and philosophy and music and film speaks to his passion for living. We could all learn a lesson or two from Yelchin’s zest for knowledge, and indeed a number of the subjects interviewed in Love, Antosha—from Kristen Stewart to Martin Landau—describe how positively he impacted their lives. We also see how dearly Yelchin was loved by his parents, and how much they meant to him. Which makes his accidental death that much more upsetting.
Love, Antosha is a loving, heartbreaking, but ultimately inspiring documentary about a young man who was not going to let life put him in a box. He pursued his passions with vigor, enjoyed tremendous success, and most importantly put a positive and everlasting mark on the world. As upsetting as his passing still is, some semblance of consolation can be found knowing that he leaves behind a life truly well lived.