The Death Trilogy’s Finale: Last Days

lastdaysphotoLast Days (2005)
Written and Directed by Gus Van Sant
97 min.

This is the third in a three-part series on Gus Van Sant’s Death Trilogy:
Examining Gus Van Sant’s Death Trilogy (Part 1)
Gus Van Sand: Harry Brewis on ‘Gerry’ (Part 2)

Last Days is the second worst movie I’ve ever seen. No, let’s not even say ‘movie’—second worst bunch of footage, as Greg DeLiso would put it. There are two-hour long conspiracy theory videos on YouTube I’d prefer to rewatch sooner than this.

For all film viewers, there’s a line of acceptable enjoyment. A person can understand what a film is trying to say even if they don’t enjoy it on an immediate level. But past a certain point, it becomes difficult to divorce yourself from your own lack of engagement. While I try to enjoy all films, Last Days joins a very special list containing only two others (Dogtooth & Melancholia) that even I cannot suspend my boredom enough to properly read intellectually. If someone told me any of these three films were pranks specifically created to beat me, I would believe them.

Last Days follows the last days of ‘Blake’, a Kurt Cobain stand-in, before his suicide. What you get is ninety minutes of actor Michael Pitt dossing around, walking in the woods, looking bored, struggling to make himself dinner, and having awkward conversations with his friend. At one point, the camera focuses on a TV playing a real music video for its entire duration. No, really. And, spoiler alert, when Cobain finally offs himself, you don’t even get the climactic, explosive closure of watching him do it. You simply get a glimpse of the corpse through the window of a closed door.

But here’s the thing. Despite being an incredibly boring experience, I have a total respect for what this film does. It’s very clearly about death, like the rest of the trilogy, but this one more specifically hones in on its link with depression (like Melancholia, actually). And by being one of the least enjoyable films ever, I begrudgingly have to admit it has done so really well.

Firstly, it accurately captures the slow, horrible veneer reality itself takes on when someone is in that slump, tinting everything as aimless and uninteresting. In the aforementioned static shot of the music video, Boyz II Men’s ‘On Bended Knee’, a pop-saccharine ballad about love, is reduced to just an image on an old TV screen in a house. To hold on a music video on a dude’s TV in a movie is boring and stupid—but, masterfully crafted to make you feel exactly the right feeling. It fits the nihilistic aspects of depression, where everything you were once able to enjoy suddenly becomes meaningless guff.

More importantly, this goes one step further than the other two Death movies—where the first two offer some manner of space for explanation as far as why these things are happening and how to prevent them (with Elephant, one can speculate as to why the teens chose to shoot up the school, or with Gerry, whether pop culture was the distraction that lead the Gerries to their deaths or their only possible means of escape from the terror of their situation) this film instead offers nothing. There is no justification for pseudo-Kurt’s sadness in the film. He just is. And this mirrors depression in reality—it isn’t easily justified, and defies sense. It seems, from within, inescapable. And it manifests as a person who needs help, but is incapable of calling out for it, even pushing those around him away.

The viewer is denied even the possibility of being surprised by a suicide scene. Whereas the first two films offer explosions of violence to highlight the conflicts at their heart, we are given nothing. The film tells you there is no conflict, and no escape. There is only the abyss.

Last Days is bad. It’s not entertaining, or fun, or even very engaging. But, you can see here the folly in me making such a straightforward judgement of it, given that it is precisely what it was trying to be. It is a masterwork in its own right, and yet, I do not want to see it again because the experience was so incredibly unpleasant. But, for that exact reason, everybody should see it. It is perhaps one of the only films ever made in which the inability to find anything interesting at all in it is itself part of a larger message about being trapped in a self-destructive state of mind.

The first two Death films are entertaining in their narrative. You can watch them with friends, make jokes, learn a little more about how each of you see the world, and still absorb what the film is trying to say.

Last Days is the perfect ending to the Death Trilogy, because it resists even this.

Watch it exactly once, in silence, alone.

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