Last Days


Directed by: Gus Van Sant
Written by:Gus Van Sant
Starring: Michael Pitt, Lucas Haas, Asia Argento, Scott Green, Ricky Jay
Released: September 1, 2005
Grade: A

I know nothing about art.  Last year, I went to the Louvre in Paris and saw the Mona Lisa for the first time.  I was there in a 100% tourist capacity.  I could now tell everyone that I’d seen the Mona Lisa, like it was some sort of achievement.  Bluntly, I wasn’t there to marvel at this most famous work of art.  I have no idea what’s even special about it and what differentiates it from the thousands of other paintings that were on display.  Even if an expert tried to explain it, I wouldn’t understand.

This analogy is relevant if I’m any hope of explaining by love for Gus Van Sant’s new film, Last Days.  Inspired by the death of Kurt Cobain, this film follows a young rock musician named Blake (played by Michael Pitt) in the final days of his life.  Blake hardly utters a decipherable word throughout the film and many scenes are just him walking silently through the house and in the surrounding forestry.

As a result, many people will see Last Days as the most boringly pointless film ever made.  You’d be hard pressed to find another film this year with less dialogue and less action.  So why did I like it?  When you see 200 odd films each year, you develop a dull familiarity which makes it hard to stay interested.  Most movies follow the same predictable formulas and pan out exactly as you’d expect.  For me, Last Days had me hypnotised.  I found it fascinating to be watching a simple person go about his life whilst knowing that he will soon die.  He doesn’t know this of course but I do.

Last Days is the final in a trilogy of films from director Gus Van Sant (My Own Private Idaho, Good Will Hunting) on the subject of young people and death.  In 2002’s Gerry (which was hardly seen in Australia), Matt Damon and Casey Affleck were two individuals who became hopelessly lost in a desert.  2003’s Elephant (which won the Palm D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival) looked a high school shooting spree in a similar vein that which happened at Columbine High School.  Elephant was my second favourite film of last year and a true masterpiece.  Each film explores a different cause of death.  Sometimes it is brought about from being careless, sometimes it is completely random and unexpected, sometimes it is can consume you.

In the leading role, Michael Pitt gives a tremendous performance.  It can’t have been easy replicating the same mannerisms and mumblings for each take.  Pitt is developing a strong resume in the world of independent cinema.  It’s as if he’s deliberately trying to shun main-stream Hollywood by taking on roles in films such as Hedwig & The Angry Inch, Bully and The Dreamers.  I respect any actor who is not tempted by the lure of Hollywood blockbusters but instead looks for “meatier” roles in low-budget independent films (where the scripts are written before the actors sign on the dotted line).  Michael Pitt fits this mould.

I’ve done my best to explain why this is one of my favourite films of 2005.  It’s become a cliché but it actually one of those films that you’ll love or hate.  The Courier Mail critic Des Patridge gave it his lowest rating of a single star.  At The Movies host Margaret Pomeranz awarded it her highest rating of five stars.  It’s not often that you see a film which leaves critics so divided.  If you don’t get it, then don’t worry.