Film review by: Witney Seibold
I’m not much of a music person, seeing as I’m a film critic, so much of the details of Kurt Cobain’s death slipped me by back in 1994 when he, against all expecations, committed suicide at the height of his career. But seeing as director Gus Van Sant changed Kurt’s name to Blake, and changed the circumstances of his death – and with it the potential lurid tabloid approach to the events of his life as a lesser biographical filmmaker would likely have done – into a contemplative mood piece anyway, my ignorance of the whole affair did not leave me feel left out of the power of this effective film.
When we see Blake (Micahel Pitt, disguised under a matt of dirty blonde hair) for the first time, he is wandering in the woods outside of his Washington castle. He mumbles to himself, and wanders and wanders and wanders. Ambient sounds drift in and out of his ears, possibly of significance, possibly not, but definitely altering the mood of the film. People drift in and out of his day (Lukas Haas appears and sings a song, Ricky Jay gives a very Ricky Jay monologue, Harmony Korine plays a fellow in a club who tells Blake about a Dungeons & Dragons game he played), but he acknowledges them all with anything ranging from indifference to outright unacknowledgement. We see him through the window, just sort of puttering around. And, in only one scene does he actually sing. The song is full of torment and pain. It’s unclear if Blake is or is not on drugs. The film is mostly without dialogue, and what we do get is insignificant. What we have is a lot of wandering, a lot of mumbling, and a vague sense of misplaced pain.
This film is in the mold of Van Sant’s last two films Elephant and Gerry, which both started with true-life events, and then, without moralizing or making excuses or even trying to deal in a logical way with their respective tragedies (The Columbine High shootings, a murder in the desert), merely observes. Mostly by following characters’ walking and walking for minutes at a time. And, in the process, they inexplicably create intriguing meditations. Last Days is just as powerful and just as difficult and, for most audiences, just as maddening as those films. And I guess it’s the only way to really deal with a pop tragedy like Kurt Cobain’s death. Don’t give us motivations. Just show us what Kurt was doing in his last days. We’ll draw our own conclusions; we probably would anyway.