2005Director: Gus Van Sant
Cast: Michael Pitt, Lukas Haas, Asia Argento
DITOR'S NOTE: Stylus writer Mike LeChevallier was fired on April 28, 2006, for plagiarizing a review of Wild Tigers I Have Known. While we cannot prove definitively that the rest of his film-related work for Stylus was plagiarized in part, or wholesale, we no longer stand by the contents of this article because of disturbing similarities between many of his reviews and similar work found on Slant Magazine.
Endless canopies and moss-covered stonewalls loom around the exterior lot of a backwoods castle, unknown to the majority of the living world. The harmonies of songbirds and rustling of foliage against a cold breeze overtake the landscape with ease. Deeper, against the personal backdrop of aimlessness and confusion, the grumblings of a man can be heard. Never has the incessant and seemingly meaningless routine of a long-haired, rail-thin drugged out rock star’s solitary confinement been so imperative to fully apprehend and sympathize with the mental and bodily state of malfunction through subconscious self-abuse. All of this is able to be perceived solely from the familiar yet distinctive locale of Gus Van Sant’s final entry in his damn-near career-defining Death trilogy, Last Days.
The bleak and multitudinous desert of Gerry and the consistently glowing and elongated corridors of Elephant both align consummately with the tilted green-gray haven existing within Last Days. Each and every one of the environments present in these pictures directly connects with the situation at hand so seamlessly that they act as that single mirror you unquestionably glance in before heading out the door for a night of who knows what. Elephant accomplished this feat with surreptitious skill, while Gerry, the first entry into the trilogy, featured flashy tracking shots (the longest being about a quarter of a mile, which is documented on the DVD). What Van Sant achieves in Last Days, based “loosely” on (yet, as the final slate details, dedicated to) the downfall of the rangy Nirvana front man, so expertly is the construction of three separate film-ecosystems revolving around Cobain look-alike Blake (Michael Pitt, of Bully and The Dreamers fame), whereas Gerry and Elephant hold single domains each. The three terrains (both cerebral and tangible) consist of Blake’s mentality around people, Blake’s mentality amongst nature, and the almost one-sided views of Blake’s bandmates and fellow boarders within the house. While Van Sant juggles these varying scenarios as best as any ambitious filmmaker is able to, sometimes scenes just don’t feel right at that precise moment in the reel. This doesn’t necessarily subtract because, in actuality, Blake’s entire mumbling mantra doesn’t feel right for the center character of a film. When shots repeat themselves unwittingly, and previous displays go through time lapses (also present in Elephant, but not in Gerry) the viewer gets an intense feeling of reliance on exactly what Blake will do next, and they consequently hope for the best (or the worst, depending on your reaction to the film).
Kim Gordon’s cameo appearance (as herself) is the uncommon interval in which Blake is given a choice, an ultimatum, to escape from the incarceration he has been placed in. She offers him an “easy” way out and a return to the certainly more lavish lifestyle prior to his initiation into an isolation period. But what Mrs. Thurston Moore is unaware of, and even Blake himself does not come to the realization of until that crucial attempt to grasp music one last time at a local bar, is the fact that this man came here to waste away. This is his final resting place, without any ounce of ambiguity. Phone calls come in by the hour requesting Blake’s consent for an 86-day tour, but he says not one word. He would rather don a woman’s dress and carry a rifle around like some territorial transvestite hunter of the grasslands. It is in Blake’s indecision to partake in life that the predominant significance of Van Sant’s three films comes full circle. Death does not have to be justified, and it does not have to be the result of some sort of dysfunction within a certain specimen or within society as a whole. It comes as it does and no other way. Quick and violent as in Elephant, needful and almost sexual as in Gerry, and slowly falling as in Last Days.
There is one scene in the film that incontestably ties the beginning to the end, and the film to the remainder of the outside world. Two young boys from the Church of Latter Day Saints arrive at Blake’s home and begin reciting the origins of their faith, much of which involves Jesus Christ (who else?) to Blake’s fellow boarder Scott (Scott Green). As this conversation is taking place, shots crosscut with Blake standing in a room making half-hearted moves from one side to another. The fact that Jesus arises at this exact moment, and the opening of the film saw Blake bathing (baptizing?) himself in a nearby stream, brings to the fore the idea of Cobain as some kind of rock and roll messiah.
But, the difference is, when Jesus died he rose up to heaven in a glorious fashion (do not let Scorsese fool you). When Blake dies, his spirit nakedly climbs the window panes of an adjacent garden shed door and disappears out of the top of the frame. Two different kinds of saviors for two different breeds of minds. Here’s hoping that Van Sant continues to make films that feature that exact variety of dichotomy.
By: Mike LeChevallier
Published on: 2005-11-21