Gus van Sant calls his new movie "a meditation on isolation, death and loss." Less generous viewers might call it "nap time." Shot in the same peculiar style as his previous two films, "Gerry" and "Elephant," "Last Days" is inspired by and dedicated to Nirvana's suicidal Kurt Cobain. In the role of the terminally famous rock star Blake, Michael Pitt mumbles and stumbles through an hour and a half of experimental filmmaking before he finally expires, leaving a handsome corpse on a greenhouse floor.
Shot with simple long takes, incongruous sound, and minimal dialog, the film is a self-conscious exploration of cinematic form, fragmenting time and repeating scenes. In the first shot, Blake can be seen in an idyllic forest, vomiting violently. In the second shot, he comes to a wild stream, which he crosses just to urinate in it. It takes the tortured musician almost an hour before he picks up his guitar. Instead of singing, he produces a storm of feedback and howls over the noise. Clearly, this beautiful young man is in desperate agony.
With his dumbfounded thousand-yard-stare, Michael Pitt never looks less than gorgeous, no matter if he wears dirty shirts, striped sweaters, or women's underwear. He parts his chin-length hair for tokes from a cigarette and carries a shotgun everywhere, as menacing prop and constant reminder of the death to come. Every now and then, he jots profundities in his journal: "I've lost something on my way to wherever I am today." (Haven't we all, Blake, haven't we all.)
Without any exposition, Van Sant drops us into the final act of the biopic, the part where the hero, after winning his first triumphs and realizing his dreams, is torn asunder by personal demons. When Leo loses it in Scorcese's "The Aviator," at least there were those milk bottles and a screening room. Blake, in his cracked stone mansion complete with faded oil paintings and passed-out hangers-on, just shuffles around aimlessly, living off Cocoa Krispies and (we presume) heroin.
"Last Days" is deliberately pointless, but it is not entirely plotless. Hints and incidents accumulate: Ricky Jay entertains with a weird tale from showbiz history, and Harmony Korine informs us that Jerry Garcia was a great Dungeon Master. There's an orgy that involves (what else?) the Velvet Underground's "Venus in Furs," and because this is a Gus Van Sant film, there's also a gay kiss. Somebody wants Blake to listen to their demo. Blake strums a last song on the guitar, something suitably morbid about his "long, lonely journey." A little while later, he's dead and the movie is over.