5 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Aug. 30, 2005
Movie review by David Malsch"I'd rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I am not." - Kurt Cobain
There are monumental events in everyone's lifetime that can never be forgotten. We can recall the exact place we were and what we were doing when we heard the news. It could be 9/11 or when the Space Shuttle blew up or the first time we had our hearts broken. I remember like it was yesterday the day that Elvis Presley died. It had little effect on me, but I remember my parent's reaction more than anything. I remember the hoopla that when on for days afterwards. I remember feeling disgruntled over the fact that the great Groucho Marx died three days later with little fanfare. If there was to be any hoopla over the loss of someone, I felt Groucho deserved it more than Elvis.
I remember everything about the day John Lennon was killed and I also can recall the day Kurt Cobain ended his life. Lennon was harder on me because it was a complete shock. Cobain's death seemed inevitable at the time. I was prepared for that day, it's like he had been dying from a disease and at anytime could pass away. When it finally happened, that preparation didn't make it any easier. There was a void, a loss that one feels when you lose a friend or a family member. The loss my parents felt with the death of Elvis or the way we all felt with the loss of Lennon. Cobain's death left a young generation numb, a generation that will never forget what happened on that day in April 1994.
Last Days is a fictional recount of the last two days of Kurt Cobain's brief life. It's summarized into the life of a reluctant rock star named Blake (Michael Pitt). Everything about Blake is Cobain from the way he looks and dresses to the situations where his life has ended up. He has a daughter with an estranged absent wife, a drug problem and an even bigger problem of people leeching on to him. Blake spends most of his time avoiding them, desperate to hide out from people in his own home. He barely answers a forever ringing phone and there always seemes to be someone at the door selling him something or spreading the word of God.
When we first see Blake he's wandering through the forest in his pajamas. He has escaped rehab, his in-patient bracelet still around his boney wrist. He swims, he urinates, he builds a fire before he finally makes it back home. Once at home he eats chocolate Rice Crispies and macaroni and cheese, digs up his drug stash in the yard and is always changing his clothes that range from his wife's lingerie to oversized parkas and bug-eyed sunglasses. He is a man that just wants to be left alone. Just like Kurt, Blake was a drug addict that in the end no one cared to save; they were too busy feeding off him. In the end he doesn't so much end his life but rather escapes his surroundings.
Filmmaker Gus Van Sant took the life of Cobain and created another life of remarkable similarities. Last Days is the third film in a trilogy that Van Sant has made about death. His first film of the trilogy was Gerry (2002) that dealt with mistakes and accidental death and Elephant (2003) dealt with premeditated death with it's chilling adaptation of the Columbine massacre, Last Days is like a combination of both. Van Sant's trilogy for most people is unwatchable, like nails on a chalkboard. He abandons narrative and genre and makes films that seem like nothing is happening and when things do happen there is no clear reason to why it's happening. There are long unblinking shots with little to no dialogue, most of the script of Last Days is Blake mumbling to himself. After being nominated for an Oscar with Good Will Hunting, Van Sant made the dreadful Psycho remake and Finding Forrester. But since then he has had an artistic rebirth and is making his best and most daring films of his career.
Last Days is one of the indisputably great films of the year. Beautifully photographed by Harris Savides and perfectly put together by Van Sant. There are some truly wonderfully scenes in this film like when Blake is making music on his own. Where he is playing every instrument and creating his art all while the camera slowly pans away outside the window, slowly removing us from his creative process, keeping us at arms length. There is another great scene that features Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth desperately trying to remove Blake from the house, to help him. She asks about his daughter and wonders if he he tells her that he is becoming a rock 'n' roll cliche. She seems to be the only person in the world that cares for him and who very well could be a hallucination.
These films are not for everyone; even the biggest of Cobain fans may feel alienated by Van Sant's style. But it is that hypnotic style that has defined his spot in independent film. Filmmaker's like Van Sant and Jim Jarmusch have been indie from the beginning, long before there was a Sundance. Through whatever detour they may take in their careers, it always ends up original and fiercely independent. They are rock stars in the world of film. We can only hope that they're independent spirit never burns out or fades away.
Another film about Kurt Cobain:
Kurt & Courtney (1998)
Other great work by Gus Van Sant: Elelphant (2003), Gerry (2002), Good Will Hunting (1997), To Die For (1995), My Own Private Idaho (1991), Drugstore Cowboy (1989)
Other great films starring Michael Pitt: The Dreamers (2003), Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
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