Monday, September 04, 2006

Last Days (2005)

Last Days (Gus Van Sant, 2005)

Gus Van Sant's final entry to his Death Trilogy (which includes Gerry (2002) and Elephant (2003)) reportedly solicited several walk-outs upon screening. It's not an easy film to watch and if you are expecting a biopic of the life of tragic musician Kurt Cobain, it's best to stay clear of the film. Originally planned as a somewhat silent film, Last Days evolved into a contemplative examination on the last few days of a musician, Blake (Michael Pitt), the fictional rocker inspired by Kurt Cobain, before he dies. The film, from its first frame to its last evokes a deathly sensation despite its lush setting (a mansion in the middle of a healthy forest), and the several near-interventions from friends and co-workers. It's a powerful film, to say the least and through its meandering pacing, it generates a feeling of an impending event that is impregnated with religious, philosophical and psychological possibilities.

Last Days starts with Blake walking alone, mumbling indecipherable statements, to the forest's falls. He hops in and takes a bath, and steps out of the pond to urinate directly on the water. Interpretations of the opening scene range from a symbolism of baptism being ultimately shattered by Blake's pissing all over the baptismal font, to just about anything. Blake then walks to his mansion, tries to defrost his meal, then goes up and changes to a woman's lingerie and just depressedly does nothing. Again, that makes for difficult viewing as the character embodies a fatal ache that remains mysterious and thus, terrifying. Of course, it's been said that Kurt Cobain's death is a result of his addiction with drugs, added by his personal motivations, but all of that is brushed aside here, Blake's reasons for taking his life is not an issue but the journey from absolute resolution to death to the final act is the meat of the movie.

There are several scenes in the film that allude to religion. Two young Mormon missionaries visit Blake's mansion and is met by Blake's two loafer friends, Luke (Lukas Haas) and Asia (Asia Argento). The missionaries talk about their religion with memorized conviction, and tackles an interesting point that one can only reach purity upon killing a pure creature. Everything is cryptic and it is almost impossible to completely understand the dynamics of the film, but it is easy to connect the events and the dialogue to the fact that Blake is resigned to death. When all the preaching is happening, Blake is in his room dazed and clearly in a state of disarray. The background of this scene is punctured by the music of BoyzIIMen playing, and ending with the rather corny MTV playing in the television screen. It's a curious symbolism that tackles a form of washing away of his rock and roll convictions for contemporary pop trash, a graduated punishment for him to purity. Of course, I'm guessing but nevertheless, the scene is pumped up with deadpan humor.

The film is connected by several situations, mostly involving several persons involving themselves with Blake. It's a sort of intervention that concludes in a clearer conviction to end his life. In only one scene do we see compassion from one of Blake's companions and the rest are barely knowledgeable on what is really happening, even to the point that to his last hour, friends still pour to ask for favors yet never care as to why Blake is acting strangely. It's probably the drugs, or the liquor, or the highness to rock and roll.

It's been said that one achieves nirvana when one has achieved the greatest high through narcotics, but I differentiate Blake's scenario with the drug-induced nirvana. Blake's assuredness, his purity, is his nirvana which is why his character is impenetrable and his movements seem illogical and out of this world. From the first frame to the last, Blake is in a state of sureness that is probably absent in his entire life. That being said, Last Days can be accurately described as one of the greatest death scenes (all of its running time) ever filmed.

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