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Last Days

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 08/12/05 00:31:53

"Van Sant concludes his Tru-Death Trilogy"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Gus Van Sant’s “Last Days” has been described by some as a film about the last few days in the life of grunge rocker Kurt Cobain before he killed himself in 1994. However, anyone going in expecting a lurid docudrama filled with sex, drugs, violence and rock music will be disappointed to discover that Van Sant is working in the same austere mode that he used for the previous installments of his unofficial Tru-Death Trilogy (the alternately beautiful and troubling “Gerry” and “Elephant”)–he is so disinterested in those potentially exploitable elements that he only brings them on after the fact. Instead, he is more concerned with exploring the overwhelming pain, loneliness and isolation that Cobain must have felt before committing his final, terrible act.

When we first spot Blake (Michael Pitt), our Cobain substitute, he is aimlessly wandering through the woods nearby his Seattle home, swimming in a chilly river and half-singing/half-muttering the word to “Home on the Range.” He is utterly alone, a condition that will continue through the rest of the film no matter how many people are around him at any given time. Over the course of the next (and last) few hours of his life, Blake will struggle vainly to accomplish such mundane tasks as preparing macaroni & cheese or watching an old Boyz II Men video on the television. He will scurry away from those trying to get in contact with him–band members, worried friends, even a private detective. As he withdraws further and further into his not-so-splendid isolation, it becomes evident that there is something seriously wrong with him that goes far beyond whatever chemicals he may or may not have been ingesting–some crucial circuit within him has burned out and he is either unable or unwilling to fix it and the results are devastating. For this Blake, the road of excess leads not to the palace of wisdom but a tragic final act in a lonely greenhouse surrounded by no one of consequence.

However, this is not a standard rock & roll cautionary tale in which the grim final days are preceded by images of the good times in their lurid splendor. As Van Sant depicts him, Blake has long since burned past whatever joys those things might have once provided and is now so out of it, through a combination of bad drugs, worse friends (including Lukas Haas and Asia Argento as two of the interlopers who barely even notice Blake unless they need money or drugs)) and profound inner turmoil, that nothing that he experiences can break through his fog. In one of the saddest moments in the film, he sits by himself and belts out a painful and powerful song and discovers to his horror that not even his music has the ability to make an impact with him any more.

Because, like “Gerry” and “Elephant” it is so austere and deliberately paced (though beautifully photographed, like those earlier films, by Harris Savides), I suspect that many viewers will lose patience with “Last Days” long before it comes to its sadly predictable conclusion. Those who are able to find themselves on Van Sant’s wavelength will find it to be a sad and thoughtful look at the price of fame that is his strongest work since “To Die For.” Regardless of your feelings towards Kurt Cobain–whether you believe him to be a genius too fragile for this world or a punk who chose to take the easy way out–“Last Days” will cause you to re-examine your feelings towards him in new and surprising ways.

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