In Gus Van Sant's Last Days, the young, gifted, unstable musician Blake (Michael Pitt) is an afterimage of Kurt Cobain. By fictionalizing his film's story, as he did in Elephant, rather than attempting a genuine biopic, Van Sant frees himself to invent, explore and reflect (and also, no doubt, to avoid a lawsuit from Courtney Love).
Last Days presents Blake's bleak parting in disconnected patches, jumping around randomly within its constricted time and place of what seems to be less than 24 hours in Blake's life. It begins with a walkabout in the woods and ends with his suicide, which Van Sant spares us from witnessing. It's as if we're seeing the story through the eyes of a spirit Blake, looking down at his terrestrial life, like Eliot's Prufrock, after having ascended his stairway to heaven. This is a wonderful conceit, except that Van Sant's incoherent movie is even more self-indulgent than his shot-for-shot remake of Psycho.
It's not just that he needlessly disorients us with a choppy narrative and furtive characters. Van Sant doesn't seem to care about them all very much. It's like he just wanted to film some images that he had tossing about in his head, but then forget that he's making a work of art meant to communicate and explore. The narrative never focuses on a thread or a sensation, except the requisite feeling of melancholy that comes from knowing a beautiful young man is going to die.
This would be an unbearable film if not for Pitt (The Dreamers, Hedwig and the Angry Inch). Where the other actors improvise their characters clumsily, Pitt seems to experience his. He speaks only two or three full sentences in Last Days; the rest of his articulations are slurred and mumbled, except when he wants us to hear a telling phrase, like "can't die today." A lesser actor might have bludgeoned such a weighty phrase, but Pitt is so absorbingly focused that his performance feels eerily natural.
There's a bizarre scene in Last Days where Luke (Lukas Haas), one of Blake's bandmates, tells Blake about a sexual affair with a woman so glorious that it caused him to write a song about it. Then Scott (Scott Green), another member of the band, escorts Luke from the room, and as Blake plays and sings all alone downstairs, Luke and Scott undress and have sex in an upstairs bedroom.
Like everything else in Last Days -- the courteous Yellow Pages salesman, the door-to-door Mormon missionaries -- this passage comes from nowhere and goes nowhere, like the fleeting boy-on-boy shower make-out scene in Elephant. Van Sant, who has been openly gay since the start of his career, clearly has something in mind with all of this. I just wish he'd quit jerking off and tell us what it is.