Director Gus Van Sant ("Elephant" readily admits that this dour portrait of a
musical artist in a state of withdrawal prior to committing suicide, is only
a suggestion of what Kurt Cobain's last days might have been like. Following
this hugely popular singer's shock to the musical world, few details that
might have explained it emerged. This "inspired by" account is mostly drawn
from Van Sant's own experiences and insights as a celebrity down home in
Seattle. There is nothing here that goes beyond media accounts and the
paceless experience is like taking time for a walk with a zombie.
Of course, that's in a carefully rendered depiction of a heroin addict's
behavior. Blake, our central character (Michael Pitt), is lethargic, narcoleptic, dreamy
and, by turns, creative. He's largely inexpressive and barely seen under his
locks of hair and his hooded jacket. In first sighting, he hastens through a
wooded area, comes to a river below a waterfall, swims across, and pees. End
of scene. Cut.
During a salesman's pitch to renew his a business ad in the yellow pages
(from whence this comes is not exactly explained), he nods, he mutters, he
zones out, and shakes hands when he must. End of scene. Isolated in
But, nothing has no meaning, and the portrait of Blake is one of a person who
has had all he wants of intrusions, even those of members of his band or
close cirlce of friends (Asia Argento, Lukas Haas, Scott Green), many of whom
live in his stone castle with him. Whenever someone who thinks they can come
barging into his house, which is the compound of a deecaying estate bordered
by a river and a lake (not bad digs), he flees into the woods. Every time,
and there are many.
We never see him or anyone else indulge in drugs, but the rambling,
semi-focused behaviors indicate it's being taken care of. No need to show
it. He does, however, get hungry, and we witness him eating a fumblingly
prepared meal of macaroni and cheese.
Mostly, there are no revelations that we can hang onto as a thread of logic
for suicide. A battle with inner demons is an easy argument to make, both
for the character portrayed here and for Cobain. Suicide is so often
accompanied by a blank record of the specific lines of emotional stress that
lead to a last desperate act.
Van Sant insists on avoiding anything that could amount to dramatic
construction. If his camera dwells on a person sitting and holding a
guitar, then you're there, observing a person who looks like nothing is going
on. This is the building blocks of realism. This is truer than creating an
expressed motivation that might have an engaging quality. Van Sant wants you
to take the moments with his people in as ordinary and random a way as you
might in life and leave the stream of these moments to build meaning.
Moments of actual meaning revolve around music, and we see Blake putting some
rather inventive solo tracks together. This is actually Pitt singing live
from his own material ("Death to Birth"). Background music includes Van Sant
favorites like "Venus in Furs" (Velvet Underground) and a video of Boyz II
While Van Sant gives time and space for Ricky Jay to improvise on his
extensive knowledge of esoterica, he provides little to distinguish Asia
Argento as a character beyond her presence as a groupie hanger-on.
Not sure all that renders this film particularly meaningful or worth more
than a glance. But Van Sant, apparently, could care less. He'd like us to
find some resonance in it, but I, for one, felt little attachment and less
harmony beyond the inescapable sadness. I appreciate the boldness of his
design and that its appeal is for Vant Sant's arthouse and movie-rebel
followers and those of the cinema underground who might not yet have learned
to appreciate his artificially purposeful attitude toward making movies. His
arty avoidance of moviemaking cliche's is not without the drug culture cliche'
of the stoned retreat into oneself.
"Last Days" doesn't even suggest the manner in which the man took his own
life but, as said, this isn't meant to suggest anything not already in the
Kurt Cobain public domain.
~~ Jules Brenner