Kurt Cobain spent the majority of his brief life fighting personal demons and losing. Turning to heroin to ease his stomach ulcers, he was swept into a whirlwind of degeneration and terribly self-destructive choices, such as marrying Courtney Love and impregnating her. Besides his serious issues, he was an extremely talented musician, and his band Nirvana defined the grunge rock movement in the 1990’s. His suicide shouldn’t have shocked anyone who was paying attention, but nobody knew where he was or what he was doing the last few days of his life.
Director Gus Van Sant has taken it upon himself to create a fictionalized movie about these final days, drawing his own interpretation as to what may have occurred. He decides to name the protagonist Blake, probably so he can’t be sued for character defamation. Last Days opens with opera music playing and Blake (Michael Pitt) wandering around the woods, stammering aimlessly and barfing. He goes for a swim in the water wearing boxers, and there is no sound playing besides the flowing stream. Then he sits by a crackling fire, humming, for what feels like an eternity.
Blake doesn’t seem to do much of anything, besides mumble incoherently to himself and grunt like a guinea pig. Things like completing a sentence or speaking in an established language seem to be unnecessary exertions. He lives in an unheated stone mansion in the middle of the woods, and doesn’t desire to communicate with the outside world, or even the 'friends' living in his house, who only approach him for money or favors. Managers and record label associates are trying to find him, but he doesn’t want to be located. He prefers dressing in women’s eveningwear and collapsing in front TV's playing corny “Boyz II Men” songs in peace. You know he must have been a drug addict if he was listening to that music by choice.
Last Days has no traces of plot or character development. It is simply a vehicle for Gus Van Sant to show the beauty of a long painful silence and save money on hiring someone to write a script. After Elephant and Gerry, he continues his trend of minimalist filmmaking by trying to speak volumes by saying nothing at all. The problem is that he is in fact, saying nothing but “fuck you” to the audience. Here is a talented director who has created great films like Good Will Hunting and My Own Private Idaho, deciding to switch gears and make the most pretentious, uninspired movies in recent memory. He doesn’t even try, because he doesn’t have to, and he hopes others will buy into his artistic visions. Sadly many of them do, but I’ve read "The Emperor Has No Clothes" and it feels awfully familiar.
There are no interesting quotes to mention, no poignant scenes to pinpoint, nothing consistent other than the desire to check your watch. Michael Pitt does his best to portray a lost-soul rock n’ roll tragedy, but he has no meat to chew in this role. He varies from a hazy cross-dresser to an Elmer Fudd knock-off toting a shotgun, but he barely speaks and he remains a stranger to us. He is at his best when he is playing songs that he himself has written, notably one called “Death to Birth.” The supporting cast is given maybe five minutes of screen time each, generally sitting at some part of a room with quiet restraint. Put me in a movie, I could sit and look stupid staring into space too. I could sure use the money.
Besides the aforementioned consistent boredom, Van Sant butchers what could be the heart and soul of the movie. Blake is a severe drug addict, but we never see any drugs, or any reaction to drugs. I suppose that subplot wasn’t relevant when instead you could show Blake pouring a bowl of Cocoa Krispies. Even his suicide, which you’d imagine to be intense and climactic, is done in prime throwaway fashion, off screen and without emotion.
There is not one second of Last Days with any hint of soul or depth. Why create a movie displaying your perspective when you simply do not have one? Would you raise your hand in class if you had nothing to say? An intensely enigmatic figure like Kurt Cobain could be the basis of a fascinating biopic, instead Van Sant reduces him to much ado about nothing. If his last days were really this banal, it’s no wonder he killed himself.