From the opening shot of Gus Van Sant's latest film we are aware of something unique. A singular voice, and one that has really been finding itself lately. We get no traditional opening credits or titles. There is no cast of characters listed until the end, and our first shot of Blake (Michael Pitt) is distant. He is not seen in close up for a long while into the film and when he is, Pitt is covered in a mess of his own hair and dirt that we hardly even recognize him. It is the distancing nature of the story that lends itself to this tactic. We can't see him up close, because no one can. There is no one in the film that understands Blake, and no one who can get close to him, so why should we the viewers?
Blindly entering the film you may not know what's going on for awhile. Van Sant doesn't need to rush to the plot, and background information is very sparse. For the first ten or fifteen minutes it seems more like Last Days is going to be a meditation on nature, and living in the woods. When we see Blake wander by a passing train, and later enter what we find to be his house (a decrepit European style mansion), we realize that this is the civilized world, but in his confusion, Blake would rather wander the woods and nature. He purposely distances himself from everyone in the picture. The few instances where someone attempts to contact him, he remains aloof. His "friends" that are staying with him do very little for him. Asia (Asia Argento) just checks to see whether or not he's dead, and when she feels a pulse, carefully props him back up and closes the door behind her.
His other friends either ask for musical advice, or money. Blake being so detached agrees to give both, but you have the feeling that a moment later he won't remember his promises. We learn that he is a father, but he's so far removed from his own life, that we wonder if he's even aware of it. He is visited by the matriarchal Kim Gordon (of Sonic Youth) who may or may not be a mother towards Blake, and she is the one voice of reason there. She attempts to get Blake to come with her to go back to rehab (where the bracelet on his arm indicates he escaped from). She isn't very insistent, and leaves without him.
One thing that Van Sant is careful of is not showing Blake abusing. The most we see from him is the puff of a cigarette, there is no visible drug abuse. So you have to wonder if he's using off camera, or he's just so far gone that it doesn't even matter.
Similarities between Blake and Kurt Cobain are very evident, and judging from the reference to Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, I'm lead to believe that the film takes place in or around 1994 when Cobain died. His hair, and clothes make him look disturbingly like Cobain, and even when he sings, his voice is nearly identical. The resemblences are spooky and Van Sant could have very easily made this film specifically about Cobain (perhaps then it might play in a few more theaters).
Like his previous films, this one is shot rather slowly. Shots are long and there is no rush to get things moving in here. Van Sant also plays with time a little more, showing scenes two times, from different points. I'm not sure what the purpose of this is, but it does however save from crosscutting, and lets us get a closer look at certain moments in the picture.
It should be digested slowly however. The film is a great work, and one of the best American films this year, but it should be allowed to be absorbed. It may take a few hours, or a few days, but the films images will stay with you, for a lot longer than some slicker productions like Batman Begins or War of the Worlds. You'll remember this film, and how it was filmed, and it won't leave you so easily. Highly recommended, but unfortunately it is doing absolutely no business in theaters. I'd hate to see Van Sant resort to his mainstream ways, he's been on such a roll lately, even if no one is seeing his pictures. As long as he keeps the budget low though, I guess he won't lose too much money.