Monday, August 08, 2005

The Last Day

So I went with my friend GradSchoolBill to see Gus Van Sant's The Last Day on Saturday night. It's taken me a couple of days, obviously, to synthesize what I thought of the film because, well, it's hard to know how to react. We're so programmed to expect certain tropes and storylines (and I'm not blaming Hollywood, it's just the story telling tradition we have as humans), that when we're confronted by an alternative piece of storytelling, that doesn't get us to become emotionally invested, we don't really know what to do with it. Let me correct that. I didn't really what to do with it.

That said, it is an interesting movie. We are never allowed inside the characters. There's little to no dialogue, no exposition, interactions among the characters are fleeting, and don't mean much to us. It's as if we're just observing the characters going about their daily lives, and events unfold with with a similar pace to that of everyday life. Characters are introduced, and we have no idea who they are. Interactions with people from the outside world are surreal, as when a Yellow Pages salesman appears at the door and mistakes the main character, who looks almost exactly like Kurt Cobain, and is called Blake, for the owner of an automotive parts distribution company. Now, how someone could come to the door, be confronted with someone wearing combat boots, a thrift store overcoat, and his wife's slip, and who is barely responsive, and continue to sell him a advertisement, is sort of beyond me. But it's sort of typical of the film. The conversation with the salesman turns into a little discussion on the relativity of success. These sorts of interactions don't last nearly long enough, since they're about the only time you get a clue into Blake. We are never let into the character, he's entirely within himself.

Much of the movie we're treated to him sort of wandering around his crumbling mansion, avoiding the hangers-on who are crashing there and asking him for money for flights to Utah, of for assistance writing a bridge on a song. He avoids his bandmates, who want him to commit to dates. His absent wife sends a friend over looking for him, and Blake manages to avoid him, as well.

The film is very well put together, in that it's a masterpiece of editing, and there is some really nice camerawork. Scenes that would be happening in real time concurrently are shown from both sides, not always together. So often you think you've seen the scene before, and you have, in a sense, but only part of it. You saw the end of a conversation, or someone entering a room. So you get to see everything that happens, nothing is hidden. But...nothng much really happens.

I wasn't really invested in the characters, because I knew next to nothing about them. Blake is obviously in intense psychic pain, because he can barely function. he has completely shut down, because he's so totally overwhelmed. I don't know that he could even articulate what it is he wants to happen to fix the problems. I think he feels his problems are so huge and insurmountable, that there's nothing that he can do to fix them. He can't muster up any energy to have an argument with anyone, because that would suggest that he was actually invested enough to care how it turned out. But he's barely engaged enough to fix himself a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. We know how the movie ends, so we're always expecting the end. We even know how he'll do it. And when it does come, my main feeling wasn't the sadness I felt when I heard that Kurt Cobain had killed himself, but relief that Blake had ended his pain. Because he's such a cypher, I didn't feel bad that he hadn't gotten help, and sorry that he didn't see that there were people who cared about him enough to try to help him. I was mainly happy that he wasn't in pain anymore.

And I'm not entirely sure if that was what Van Sant was after. But I'm glad to see Van Sant return to his roots. I loved his first two movies, and this feels like he's coming home.


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