Last Days, by Gus Van Sant

If the write-up of "Last Days" didn't say the film was "inspired by the final days in the life of Kurt Cobain," if the main character didn't look and dress remarkably like the iconic figure we all recognize, the audience might not catch on that it's a story about the end of a rock legend. No Nirvana music is used. There's no mention of the band, or of wife Courtney Love.

People call the Cobain-looking main character "Blake." Not that people talk to him all that much. The other four people who live in the remote, crumbling stone mansion with Blake do not appear to have names at all, at least not that are of any consequence. These four slouchy, bi-sexual housemates intercept phone calls for Blake. They deflect a friend who comes looking for him. Other than that, they stay out of Blake's way. But it's not out of respect or necessity, more like mutual indifference.

What Director Gus Van Sant leaves us with is mostly a slow-moving look at an isolated man who has descended into a foggy, dysfunctional existence, the causes of which aren't explained. Except that we already know. Because however we're related to it, we know about the life and the legend of Kurt Cobain, and we bring that background with us.

As a result, what's most compelling about "Last Days" may not be in the film at all, but rather in the feelings each person brings to the image and idea of Cobain. The world knows him as a brilliant musician, a poet, a voice of a generation, and a tragic figure. It's like we know who Blake is, even if he doesn't. The lonely images of him walking through woods or struggling for consciousness on a cold floor make us want to reach out and save him. To acknowledge and remind him of who he is for us, and how much he is loved.

Intensifying these urges is the fact that we know what's coming. The inevitable ending adds to the eeriness and gloom.

Michael Pitt as "Blake"

I like to listen to people talk before and after movies. It's an odd habit, but we all get our information about the world in different ways.

I'm waiting for the film to start. The theatre is packed. People are still coming in. They stand in the aisles, scouting for an open seat. The woman next to me says to the woman next to her: "I remember exactly where I was when I heard that Kurt Cobain was dead." She had just walked out of a science class, freshman year at UCLA. People were gathered, talking about it on the quad.

The other woman shared her "Kurt Cobain is dead" moment too. For many of us too young to have heard when President Kennedy was shot, the death of Kurt Cobain was the same experience. 

I'm still trying to decide if I liked "Last Days." It's like the film dishes out the tragedy of an icon, without including any of the reasons that we loved him in the first place: his poetry, his music, his intelligence, his angst. We only get the suggestion of his presence. And yet, that is enough to be compelling and thought-provoking in many ways on its own.

Maybe that was Cobain's secret weapon with all of us: that even his indifference and isolation drew us to him. And if that is true, people may flock to see "Last Days," not for a re-enactment of a performance, but to re-experience their connection to a man who was always reluctant to connect, and who, ultimately, escaped from us all.
 

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