Movie of the Day – Last Days
August 6, 2012 Leave a comment
Gus Van Sant always strikes me as a divisive director. His work is minimalist at times, but also extremely experimental, often choosing to a stripped down approach to directing with dreamlike realism. Elephant was a movie that felt more like a vivid dream with the documentary approach to depicting a high school massacre. Last Days follows in the same foot steps of Van Sant’s previous films Gerry and Elephant, essentially closing his Death Trilogy. What you see is an introspective look on the last days of a musician reminiscent of Kurt Cobain. We watch the collapse of a human being coping with personal demons, fame and his place in life.
Blake (Michael Pitt) is the leader of an influential alternative rock band who has unexpectedly won a large degree of fame and fortune. Depressed and unsure of what to do with himself or his success, Blake wanders about the run-down mansion he calls home and the visits the woods nearby. While a handful of friends live with Blake, he prefers to avoid them, as they often seem more interested in money or help with their music than in his friendship; meanwhile, Blake is also confronted by a handful of fans, his agent, and a gentleman who sells advertising space in a telephone directory and has no idea who Blake is. As Blake goes through the motions of his day, he tries to decide what he should do next, and what might finally free him from his ennui. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
If you have seen either Elephant or Gerry, then the style of the film (the way it is shot and edited) won’t be jarring to you nor will it take you out of the element of the film. What made those two previous movies and Last Days powerful is the minimalist approach to capturing the film. Dialogue is sparse, often opting for scenes of long dialogue free acting. The editing and shooting of the film is done from multiple angles, long takes and little clutter with jump editing. Instead Van Sant produces a heady experimental film that focuses on the subject in the throes of his final days and what he personally experiences.
Now I am not much of a Nirvana fan (GASP!), but taking the death of Cobain for the template of the film works, considering little is truly known about what happens and what the mindset of Cobain was like when he died. It doesn’t offer closure or any kind of personal insight. but rather just an exploration in the mindset of a person in the final stages of his life. We see Blake going through the motions of life and his work, asking for help with writing music, engaging with bandmates and people, while being secluded and closed off at times. Michael Pitt does an amazing job at playing the strung-out human Blake, seemingly being there but not fully there in sound mind. His descent into depression and conflicting mind set is something that truly pulls you in as you are just watching a human being tear himself down from the inside.
I think Last Days is a stunning film, one that makes the experience personal and intimate. It’s not for everyone since Van Sant goes with an ethereal presentation for this film. It doesn’t have that familiar structure to films that we are accustomed to seeing and the minimalist approach to the film might be off putting for some. It’s chilling to watch the unfolding of a life from a distance. Van Sant keeps us at a certain distance as Blake sings a few lullabies and finds comfort in music. We witness something truly personal and tragic, but the camera never flinches at what happens. For some people this will be unsettling to watch, but for other, like myself, this is a beautifully tragic song to a life that was complicated.
*images via RottenTomatoes