If you are not a Nirvana fan, will Gus Van Sant's new film, Last Days, matter to you?

Yes it will.

While Last Days, screened at the 58th Cannes Film Festival in May, was inspired by the death of Kurt Cobain in 1994, all immediate references to the spiritual leader of the grunge movement, have been stripped off. Don't expect to hear any famous Nirvana songs. There aren't any. In fact, the film begins with Hildegard Westerkamp's musique concrete composition, Doors of Perception, which is the furthest thing away from Smells Like Teen Spirit.

We first see Michael Pitt (The Dreamers, Hedwig and the Angry Inch), as Blake, the film's protagonist, wandering through a dense forest, mumbling to himself, and then undressing for a swim when he comes to a river. It sets the dreamy, isolationist, improvisational tone of the film. In this first part, the film is quiet and reflective, just long tracking shots of Blake walking, his isolation completed by the eerie ambiance of nature.


Blake then returns home. There are hangers-on who are living in his home. Blake avoids them but they still insist on his attention, for example, when they need money or advice on a song. We see him watching the video of Boyz II Men's On Bended Knee, which ironically comments on his relationship with Courtney Love and which distances us further from Nirvana music. He wears a dress (now that's a clear Kurt reference) and he patiently listens to a Yellow Pages salesman while still in it. He makes an ironic comment here when he answers a question to how successful his business has been after advertising: "Success is subjective."

His band calls him and grumbles that he is abandoning them in mid-tour. A record company executive (played by Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon, whose husband, Thurston Moore, is the film's Music Consultant) visits to advise him on his career. He goes to a rock club where he again fails to keep people away from him.

Finally he is alone in his green house, where he puts an end to his life. Van Sant shows his ghost climbing out from his dead body and going away. Last Days is a very faithful haunting account of a personality who is so sensitive that he cannot keep people away from invading his psyche. Blake's constant mumbling as he walks around is an apt picture of a man's fevered brain, like a computer nervously on overload.


This is Van Sant's most successful in the trilogy of experimental features, if you include Gerry (2002) and Elephant (2003). All three films have a stream-of-consciousness element and all three are drawn from real life events. Each tries to imagine the events that led to the eventual horror.

As Van Sant said: "I guess we just sort of imagined things. We didn't have that much information, but for what came out through the popular media." If Elephant showed how inner violence can be directed against people outside, Last Days shows how external violence (through the invasion of privacy) can implode in the individual. These films are a commentary of the soul-destroying times we live in, from the gun culture of Elephant to the materialistic definition of success in this world.

This is required reviewing for every potential rock star who is on the verge of success. As the Blake character says in the film: "Success is subjective."


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