Gus Van Sant's Last Days

While I'm on the topic of life-changing music, I thought I'd review a film I've had on my "to watch" list for quite some time. Gus Van Sant's Last Days is about the last days in the life of a rock star named Blake, who is supposed to be Kurt Cobain. Blake is played by Michael Pitt of Hedwig, The Dreamers, etc. fame.

Let me start by saying that Kurt Cobain was probably the biggest influence on my life, ever. Unparalleled by Stephin Merritt or anyone else that I have listened to religiously over the years. I studied his work, tried to decipher his poetry, and at one point knew more trivia about him than anyone that I have known. I wanted to watch Last Days because in my own mind, I have a very specific idea of what happened to Kurt and I wanted to see someone else's interpretation.

A few general observations:
1. Nothing happens. Van Sant effectively took all of the drama out of this film. Isn't that the point, you say? Well, yes, but if I wasn't such a fan, I would have found it boring. Yes, he does a great job of creating a feeling of numbness, but hardly imbues Blake's character with a sense of agency. He is a madman wandering the woods without any feeling. I find it hard to believe that this particular representation is accurate, given that he had recently left rehab. There is no pain in this film. No resentment or trauma. Nothing but a numb wandering man dressed in Kurt's clothes (which are replicated pretty well).

I am not sure what to think about this. We do not even see him die. We see him leave in peace. Perhaps he did, maybe he didn't. Who knows? Maybe I should stop wanting to see a dramatic death scene complete with the moment in which he breaks down and decides to do it. Maybe it is too hard for me to accept that perhaps he was already dead, floating around without a purpose in the world. Maybe the actual death was really not that important.

Ultimately, I appreciate this interpretation of the events. I know it is supposed to be somewhat fictional. But I appreciate it because it is almost the way that Kurt would have wanted the events to happen. Leaving in peace without much hullabaloo. Yes, it would have livened things a bit if his friends who were in the house at the time had cried a bit but that would have broken the numbness.

2. Michael Pitt does a fabulous job with this character. Not only does he look like him, but his movements and mannerisms are exactly as I would have imagined them. His cries are exactly as they probably were. This character was originally conceived of as completely silent. I refuse to believe that that is an accurate representation. Even the person who is too numb to feel cries out before collapsing from the exhaustion of life, and he does it very effectively. It is also more than cool for him that one of his songs made it into the film.

3. One last thing, and maybe it is repetitive, but I feel like this film has an agenda: to give the finger to all of those who claim to "know" or "understand" Kurt, those who romanticize and theorize about his last moments. Van Sant refuses to do those things. I am frustrated by it but I appreciate it nonetheless because it doesn't leave room for interpretation. Things happened and that was the end of it. The woodsy backdrop of the film is a perfect reminder of this. Things grow and die and that is the end of it. There is no conspiracy, no other reality. It just happened and the film ends before the outcry even begins. It is everything in-between what we remember (Kurt's life and the drama of the aftermath of his death; copycats; vigils; Courtney Love).

Should you see it? Maybe, if you'll appreciate it. Otherwise you will probably find it lifeless and boring; disorienting; obtuse.


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