Last Days

I caught Gus Van Sant’s Last Days (IMDB), Van Sant’s most recent film, following after Elephant, which I liked quite a bit, and Gerry to portray characters who suffer an early death (Dennis Lim explains this comparison nicely). Last Days was “inspired” by the often banal final days of Kurt Cobain, but the film itself claims that it is not “biographical” in the narrowest sense of the term.

The film is beautifully photographed, and Michael Pitt’s performance as Blake, the dying rock singer, effectively captures the mental and emotional haze of someone completely addled by drugs and by perosnal isolation. Blake’s face is often hidden behind his blond hair, and he speaks in mumbles and grunts while stumbling through the commune-like house where he is crashing. The tragedy is compounded by the fact that the pople who share the house seem almost oblivious to Blake’s needs. As Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir notes, the film captures the self-absorption of Blake’s hangers-on beautifully, especially the guy, Scott, who listens incessantly to Lou Reed’s “Venus in Furs.” The film also captures the tedium of those final days (several shots are virtually repeated, suggesting a lack of progression) and carefully refuses to impose a significance to certain events (Blake watches an entire “Boys II Men” video; he takes out an ad in the Yellow Pages; Mormon missionaries stop by). This decision not to seek out larger explanations, to avoid digging into Blake’s psyche, gives the film its strength.

For some reason, I don’t have much to say about the film. Perhaps the tight focus on Blake and his death prevents any real commentary or critical response, and I’ll admit that I find that a little frustrating. It’s not that I don’t value the deliberate pacing or the apparent lack of focus (one critic wrongly compared watching the film unfavorably to watching paint dry–I won’t reward him with a link), but I’m not sure what to do with the film’s treatment of Blake’s tragedy. Of course the “last days” title also has vaguely apocalyptic imagery, further emphasized by the Mormon missionaries who discuss their eschatology with Scott, but even there,I’m not sure I have a larger claim about the film. This review is a very tentative one, so I’d like to hear other reactions to Last Days, so that I can better understand my own conflicted response to what I regarded as a very well made film.

8 Comments »

  1. Dylan Said,

    August 14, 2005 @ 1:51 pm

    Is there anyone these days that plays “Distant yet full of potential and sorrow” better than Michael Pitt? I’m not sure there is. He’s not a big name, but he’s been consistently better than good.

  2. Chuck Said,

    August 14, 2005 @ 3:21 pm

    I can’t remember seeing Pitt in anything other than The Dreamers, and I certainly liked his performance there (and there is some overlap between the character in Last Days). I’ll have to keep an eye out for more o fhis films….

  3. Dylan Said,

    August 14, 2005 @ 11:24 pm

    He had a small part in The Village, but the thing I remember him for most was Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

  4. Chuck Said,

    August 14, 2005 @ 11:31 pm

    For some reason, I don’t remember him in either movie, but then again, I’ve been trying to forget The Village….

  5. dvd Said,

    August 15, 2005 @ 3:08 am

    It’s been a few weeks since I saw the film, but if I remember correctly, both the incessant listening to of Venus In Furs and the repeated shots are instances of time loops of the sort Van Sant used far more blatantly in Elephant – i.e. Scott only listens to the Lou Reed song once, and the repeated shots (while technically different, being separate takes and all) are all of the same event. I’m looking forward to seeing the film again to piece together the actual chronology, which I’m fairly certain occupies a much shorter duration of time than the movie’s fractured structure suggests.

  6. Chuck Said,

    August 15, 2005 @ 9:18 am

    Okay, that repetition makes more sense now. With that in mind, I fel like I need to see the film again, too, if only to resolve my interpretation of the film.

  7. Dylan Said,

    August 16, 2005 @ 12:37 am

    In Hedwig he played Tommy Gnosis, Hedwig’s young love.

    In The Village, he played the boy that goes with the blind girl to “the towns” to find medicine.

    I’m not saying it’s spectacular, but I hated The Village the first time around, and have enjoyed it a bit more the next couple of viewings.

  8. Chuck Said,

    August 16, 2005 @ 12:45 am

    My initial impression of The Village was actually somewhat positive, even though I predicted the “twist” well over an hour before it was revealed (I suspected it during the opening scene), particularly given the film’s scathing allegorical commentary on isolationism and nostalgia.

    But I’m not sure I can bring myself to watch it again (unless I decide to write about it at some point). I think my review last year was overly harsh, and it wassomewhat influenced by the critical panning.

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