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Things We Lost in the Fire is rated R “for drug content and language,” but it starts out with such saccharine goo, I’m about to puke. I spent a couple of months looking forward to getting the DVD through inter-library loan – and now, these cornball scenes. Fortunately, it gets better.

Audrey (Halle Berry) and Brian (David Duchovny) are a happily married interracial couple. Also happily, race has absolutely zero relation to any of the issues in this film, and is not even referred to. But Brian is always running off to spend time with heroin addict Jerry (Benecio Del Toro), his oldest friend, when he could be making love to Audrey or hanging out with their kids. Brian is the only person who’s never given up on Jerry, but the price of being his support system is a certain amount of stress on the marriage. However, there are lovely non-corny episodes that show a deep understanding of the ways in which two people accommodate each other to keep their thing going on.

Then Brian intervenes in a domestic dispute between strangers, and gets killed. Audrey sends her brother Neal to tell Jerry about it, and bring him to the gathering of mourners. Audrey tells Jerry how she’s hated him for years, but there is no real good explanation for why she suddenly quits hating him. He gives up his apartment and moves into a methadone clinic where he works as a handyman. Grieving and at a loose end, Audrey seeks him out

After a fire, the Burkes’ garage had been partly remodeled into a living space, so Audrey invites Jerry to move in. She alternates between needing his presence for comfort, and lashing out at him for not being Brian. It especially upsets her that Jerry gets along great with the kids, which is a particularly true-to-life detail. It’s amazing how people can loathe you for relating well to their loved ones. Then Audrey recruits Jerry to be her teddy bear, cuddling her at bedtime. Though she has no interest in having sex with him, she wants him to do what Brian used to do, to soothe her to sleep, namely, pull on her earlobe. She says, “Faster, harder,” an unnecessarily pointed reminder that they’re having some weird kind of surrogate non-sex. This was, in my opinion, way over the top.

Jerry used to be a lawyer, and family friend Howard encourages him to take the mortgage broker test and accept a job in his company. Jerry’s going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings and making a nice return to straight life, when Audrey gets a wild hair and asks him what heroin is like. Says she wants to know how it feels to escape. She seems to be working up to asking him to score for her. Luring a junkie back to junk is truly evil, and it’s a measure of how totally fucked up and conflicted this widow is.

Royally pissed off because Jerry knew where to find her daughter Harper, who was playing hooky from school, Audrey tells him to pack up and leave. He heads straight for the bottom, skid-row junkie style. Then Audrey decides to rescue him, takes him back to the converted garage adjoining her house, and assigns brother Neal to be his minder, while he goes through a hellacious withdrawal. (How did he manage to get so heavily re-addicted, so quickly?) Then she demands that he sign into a rehab clinic, which is pretty damn arrogant, when you consider that she removed him from a rehab setting in the first place, then tried to tempt him back into a habit, then threw him out when he was had succeeded in cleaning up with the help of Narcotics Anonymous. She’s really been jerking this poor guy around, and one can only hope that, once rehabbed, he steers clear of her.

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According to everyone, and I see no reason to doubt it, the musician portrayed here by Michael Pitt is a Kurt Cobain figure. That’s as in, Christ figure, or father figure. Heavy stuff. And yet there are such people, and we call them icons. Which is a strange word choice, because an icon is only a picture, whereas some icons are, well, real. But which was Kurt Cobain?

My problem with this film is, there’s too much of the disintegration process, of which shorter and more varied hints would have been quite as expressive. And not enough of why he was so, you know, iconic.

Last Days starts with Blake wandering through the woods, swimming, spending the night out by a campfire, and muttering to himself. A lot. If you didn’t have previous knowledge of the subject, you’d think he was one of the last schizophrenics they held back before emptying the institution. Eventually, he goes back to the big, dilapidated house where the band members are staying.

Pretty early on, two Mormon missionaries come to the house, and one of the musicians listens to their rap. It’s about a pure being, that must be sacrificed. (I doubt if this will spoil it for anybody: Blake kills himself at the end.) I guess we’re supposed to have this resonate in our minds when watching him go through his craziness. Which is all well and good, but I say, convince me. I want to see why Blake qualifies as sacrificial virgin (figuratively speaking, of course) material. What was so great about the guy?

The only real hint we get about Blake’s specialness is a song he plays when by himself, which is apparently a Michael Pitt composition. He told an interviewer that the scene was shot at least half a dozen times, and for each take he extemporized a different song. The director chose the one that we hear. There is also another Michael Pitt song on the soundtrack, where all the instruments are played by him. Pitt also said he initially had doubts about using his own material, because it might seem callously self-promotional.

Ricky Jay, in one of his incomparable cameo appearances, tells a long story about a Chinese magician. I think the point is, some people can catch a bullet in their teeth, but others can’t, and we’re supposed to remember that, and make the metaphorical connection, and deduce that Blake tried to catch a bullet in his teeth and couldn’t.

Blake is on the phone with someone who tries to get him to commit to the planned tour, because everybody’s been working hard to put it together. Blake never says a word, just listens and then hangs up. Whenever he feels threatened, he puts on layer after layer of clothes and runs away from the house. He mutters to himself indoors a lot, too, and never says a coherent word throughout. He’s always passing out in a heap somewhere. In black lingerie – is this La Femme Nikita? – he slinks around the place pointing a gun at the sleeping band members and their mates.

This may show an incriminating lack of empathy, but, basically, Blake stirs up my impatience with people who are not entitled to so much despair. There would be a temptation to shake him and say, “What’s you fuckin’ problem, man?” The only thing more annoying than someone who has everything and brags about it, is someone who has everything and cultivates angst. If you’re already a gloomy type, stay away from downer drugs. I don’t think there’s any depiction of heroin use in the film, which is kind of a classy touch, if I’m remembering it right and didn’t miss any scenes. But of course Cobain was a well-known junkie.

Poor Blake just can’t cope with ordinary human needs. The Courtney Love figure shows up and very gently talks to him, and wants him to come with her, right now – presumably to a rehab clinic. She asks him if he told his daughter he’s just a rock and roll cliché. Still, I bet Courtney was never even that reasonable.

Here’s one of the things bugging Blake. Like the Midnight Cowboy theme song says, “Everybody’s talking at me.” One guy needs help with a song he’s writing. Another needs money to go settle a legal matter, and they want a heater, because the house is freezing. Granted, everyone has a different breaking point when it comes to feeling beleaguered and overwhelmed by demands. Still, this guy can’t seem to handle anything at all. What’s the point of being rich and famous, if all you’re going to eat is the worst kind of junk cereal, and a mac and cheese mix that you don’t even bother to prepare correctly?

All in all, it’s another proof that nature can’t heal. Supposedly, if people have beautiful places to live and plenty of access to fresh air and green, growing things, they will attain mental health and conduct themselves beautifully. Hah. The picturesque country estate, the gorgeous nature all over the place, they don’t help this guy a bit. He’s just wacko.

Directed by Gus Van Sant

RELATED: on the despair topic: Jeremy’s Prophecy

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