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Last Days

How to get inside the mind of anybody, let alone a confused, drug-addicted rock star who ended his life, aged 27, by putting a gun to his head? This meditation on the final week in the life of Kurt Cobain is Gus Van Sant’s reaction to the rock biopic, which is so often a presumptive, cliché-ridden and hysterical genre. Anyone expecting easy answers, apportioned blame or even the music of Nirvana should look away. This is an experimental exercise, a stimulating mood piece in which dialogue is minimal and a poetic combination of camerawork, silent physical performance and sound design becomes all-important as Van Sant attempts to lend context to a rock star’s suicide without leaning on consequential events or a distorting conspiracy theory.Here, Cobain is renamed Blake (Michael Pitt), but the Nirvana frontman’s lank blonde hair, shapeless cardigans and stripey jumpers remain. We watch Blake over perhaps three or four days as he mumbles and stumbles his way around his remote, dilapidated house. He walks in the forest. He makes macaroni cheese. He plays with a gun. He greets an unsuspecting phonebook salesman in near-silence (one of the film’s several tragi-comic moments). Around him, scruffy young associates come and go, sleeping in his house but barely interacting with him. There’s no obvious sign of drug use, but we infer it from the behaviour of everyone – not least Blake, who at one point appears to collapse beautifully in slow-motion. (Pitt’s performance is a masterclass in physical lyricism, verging on slapstick as he bumps into furniture or slips down grass verges.)In the absence of dialogue or action, the camera is one of our chief messengers. It stalks Blake along country lanes, films him at a distance or over his shoulder (the one clear close-up of Blake’s face turns out to be our last glance of him alive). At one point, it stops moving altogether, as Blake literally falls out of shot: it’s as if the camera has joined the rest of the world in deserting him. Smart sound design – the noise of bells chiming, water running, snippets of music – also acts as a ghostly insight into his troubled mind. As in ‘Elephant’, Van Sant plays with chronology, replaying some scenes from different angles. The importance of events is downplayed; it’s the mood that matters.The result is a portrait of a hunted, haunted man, disconnected from the rest of the world and demanding (silently) to be left alone. Van Sant’s sympathy is very much with Blake. This is his lament to a lost angel – how else to interpret the final scene?

Release details

Rated: 15
Release date: Friday September 2 2005
Duration: 97 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Gus Van Sant
Screenwriter: Gus Van Sant
Cast: Lukas Haas
Asia Argento
Michael Pitt

Average User Rating

5 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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Will P

I would agree to a large extent with the Time Out review, the atmosphere it creates is suitable and becomes very affecting.

Will P

I would agree to a large extent with the Time Out review, the atmosphere it creates is suitable and becomes very affecting.