Last Days, the brilliant concluding chapter in the death trilogy that inspired Gus Van Sant’s artistic rebirth, wafts through the final 48 or so hours of a Kurt Cobain–like rock star. Cobain, for one, would have appreciated its contradictions. Not exactly a radio-friendly unit shifter, Last Days is a biography without a story, a sustained monologue that can barely be heard, an interior portrait that denies access to inner life. Like Elephant, Van Sant’s Columbine meditation, Last Days zeroes in on the hallucinatory stillness of a final countdown. The iconographic details of a mythic tragedy are faithfully reproduced, and they float by in a narcotic fog, charged with meaning but untouched by the organizing principles of conventional narrative. Explanations are moot in movies that so palpably shoulder the weight of predestination, and indeed, Last Days bypasses cause altogether to focus on numb, inevitable effect. When the film opens, the Cobain figure—christened Blake and impeccably impersonated by Michael Pitt—is for all intents already dead. He’s first glimpsed stumbling through the woods, a very ape vision of unwashed blond androgyny, inpatient bracelet around his wrist, heading to a roaring waterfall to pee and bathe. The morning after, the pajama-clad wild child, named presumably for the visionary artist-poet and ranting mad genius, retreats to his tumbledown mansion, where a posse of hangers-on is encamped. No one in the film can get near Blake, and neither can you. Forsaking the helpless-angel vantage of Elephant‘s Steadicam stalking, Van Sant and cinematographer Harris Savides isolate Blake, rock star that he is, in the middle distance, his face perpetually obscured. Not unlike William Blake, Van Sant risks religiosity and arrives at spiritual clarity—in a ghostly afterimage that transcends both the Christian notion of Ascension and the rock cliché of the stairway to heaven. Pointedly contradicting Cobain’s Neil Young–quoting suicide note, Blake doesn’t burn out—he fades away.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 25, 2005