Movie Review: Ruined last days don’t ruin Last Days

By Rachel Betts-Wilmott

Gus Van Sant movies always create a buzz. When Elephant came out in 2003 there was great talk of his haunting scenes of a school shooting, while 1991’s My Own Private Idaho is first to come to mind when talking of hustlers and wasted youth. Now Van Sant has joined forces with the likes of dead rock stars and Michael Pitt to present Last Days, a movie many people are talking about once again.

The film is ostensibly about the tail-end of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s prodigal life, though the cast is given different names than their real life counterparts. Last Days stars Michael Pitt as Blake, or Kurt if you’d prefer, Lukas Haas as his band-mate Luke and Asia Argento as Asia, one of the inhabitants of Luke’s house. Throughout the movie the three fumble about, aware they are destroying their lives with drugs but continuing to do so anyway. Filmed around a short script, the movie takes a natural, smooth feeling, relying on a demur kind of improvisation. Blake says little, always running away from contact and usually in too much of a stupor to enunciate. Luke is a mess who doesn’t know how to deal with his ruined friend. Asia floats around nonchalantly taking the pulse of a dead-looking Blake. They’re all zombies under their own house rule. This is where Last Days succeeds triumphantly, the performances are incredibly convincing as the cast appears to be barely of their wits. You’re astonished when Blake manages to pour a bowl of cereal, let alone pick up a guitar. It makes you almost sick to see anything quite so wasted.

Last Days is also refreshing because Van Sant resists the temptation to glamorize the hard-living, rock and roll lifestyle. This is no homage to Kurt Cobain and his addiction, but rather a testament to the theories which have proliferated since the discovery of his body. Here the film flexes its muscles yet again, all of the potential causes of Blake’s death are alluded to through association, leaving audiences to draw their own conclusion as nothing can be said about a not-yet-dead Blake. Regardless of the way Cobain actually died Van Sant makes it painfully evident it was, or will be, inevitable, whether by his own hand or someone else’s.

Throughout the film Blake is portrayed as a scared, confused, conniving, defiant and ruined rock star unable to properly function. The story reveals Blake as desperate for something to happen, but unwilling to give up the futility of his life, or strong enough to try to improve his situation.

Once you get over the delicacy and jaded beauty of Last Days it’s hard to assess what you’re seeing. It has no real action or development to it, the story is one we already know. Indeed it doesn’t really matter what we know as the story is assumed and doesn’t claim to be factual. However it’s not the meandering style which leaves the viewer floundering, but the impression you get of being insignificant. The notion of an audience is completely foreign to Last Days, its cast and its crew. You almost feel like a trespasser in the theatre, sitting in on the hashing out of something very personal.

Some may criticize Van Sant’s refusal to stick to one theory of Blake’s death as uncertainty, but it should be seen as a refusal to narrow things down in a life full of conflicts fighting for attention on the surface and tearing the character apart beneath. Depressive tendencies, endless ambition, constantly being wanted, a rocky relationship with his wife and too many drugs all contribute to the state in which we find Blake and in Van Sant’s eyes, at least, to his pending demise.

Whether Pitt’s rendition of a junkie rock star is thought of as Blake or Kurt, Van Sant’s Last Days deserves the talk and will be remembered as possibly the clearest portrayal of a ruined generation.

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