The Last Time I Committed Suicide

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The Last Time I Committed Suicide
Directed by Stephen T. Kay
Produced by Edward Bates
Louise Rosner
Written by Stephen T. Kay
Starring Thomas Jane
Keanu Reeves
Adrien Brody
John Doe
Claire Forlani
Music by Tyler Bates
Cinematography Bobby Bukowski
Edited by Dorian Harris
Distributed by Multicom Entertainment Group Inc.
Release dates
  • June 20, 1997 (1997-06-20)
Running time
92 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $4,000,000 (estimated)
Box office $46,362[1]

The Last Time I Committed Suicide is a 1997 drama directed by Stephen T. Kay. Based on a letter written by Neal Cassady to Jack Kerouac, it stars Thomas Jane as Cassady. The cast also includes Keanu Reeves, Adrien Brody, Gretchen Mol and Claire Forlani.

The film takes place in 1946, and is loosely based on a letter from Cassady to Jack Kerouac.[2] While the letter was written in 1950, the action of the letter took place when he was 20.[3]


Thomas Jane plays Neal Cassady, a beatnik who is partly responsible for bringing together many of the famous beat generation figures. Neal is a unique soul, poetic and a dreamer. But he is caught between the excitement of the life of a drifter and the chance of a traditional home. Told from Neal's perspective, in a form of a letter, it follows his life before and after the suicide attempt by his longtime love, Joan (Claire Forlani) and how it altered him. Demonstrating Neal's active mind and ever changing thoughts, the film jumps back and forth between before and after the attempt. During the credits, as Neal starts to write his letter, the viewer experiences his odd attention span and his schizophrenic like ability to talk to himself.

The story begins the day of Joan's suicide attempt, with Neal sitting in the hall outside Joan’s hospital room, his normally happy, excited personality replaced by sadness. He enters her room and onto her hospital bed, being close and making her feel better. It is an intimate but awkward moment. It then jumps to the day before the suicide attempt, where a rain soaked Neal whisks Joan away from her job. They have an intimate night together. After, she sits on the bed, sad, but Neal keeps professing his love to her. It again returns to the hospital room, silence between them. Neal is told he has to leave.

Working the night shift at a tire plant with Jerry (Jim Haynie), an older man, quiet and reserved. During their “lunch” shift, Neal tells Jerry about trying to get on the day shift, but couldn’t because it was about seniority issue. He asks Jerry why he doesn’t go for the day shift, since he’s been around for years. Jerry responds to his repeated questioning telling Neal “a man’s got his reasons. Remember and respect that.“ He tells him the dream he had, where he was wearing a suit and having children.

Neal goes to a local pool hall to meet a friend, Harry (Keanu Reeves). Ever the ladies’ man, Neal asks to meet the girls and instantly they are smitten. Playing a game of pool, Harry asks about Joan and Neal says she’s hanging in there.

Back to the night of the suicide, Neal sleeps as Joan lays awake. While Neal slept, she went into the bathroom. Afterward, Neal discovers her in the bathroom, screaming out at seeing her lifeless body. It cuts back to the hospital hallway, Neal sitting on the floor. He tells the nurse he just can’t go into the room. Neal stands up and walks down the hall and leaves, never to return to the hospital, but always in his thoughts.

The story moves ahead, with Ben (Adrien Brody) visiting Neal, waking him to tell him about the fabulous story of how he got a loaf of bread for saving a lady’s cat. He then asks Neal if he has been back to the hospital to which Neal replies no. It cuts ahead to Neal wide awake, drinking coffee and eating bread with Ben. In a manic state, Neal, speaking a mile a minute, tells Ben about the story he has come up with, to write about.

Next it moves through Neal doing various things: sitting, talking to himself, writing and working out. They return to the pool hall where Harry suggests the two of them take the girls out on a road trip in a stolen car. Neal tells of how over his life, he must have stolen over 500 cars. They all drive out into the country, flying down the roads. Neal and one girl go out into the woods together and Harry and the other stay in the car. Back at the tire plant, Jerry finds Neal obviously high. He saves Neal from getting in trouble.

That winter, Neal is with Jerry during their break. He asks again of why Jerry is working the tire plant with him. Jerry tells him that he started on days until his wife died in an accident. Jerry tells him he can’t sleep at night because of the creaking so he works nights because it’s quiet, with the exception of Neal. He shows Neal a picture of his wife and his daughter who he hasn’t seen in a while. Neal is moved at the luckiness of having his daughter. Playing football with Ben, Neal barely pays attention, constantly telling him about Jerry’s life with much enthusiasm.

About two months after leaving the hospital, Neal is out at a bar with Harry, where Neal meets a beautiful woman, Lizzy (Marg Helgenberger) while getting drinks. She convinces Neal to come home with her. As they are leaving, Neal stops his story having to back up to tell of events that will lead up to this:

October 1945: Neal is on a public bus when a young girl, Mary Jane Greenway (Gretchen Mol): Cherry Mary. Neal and her quickly begin an intimate relationship; a very intimate relationship. Mary’s mother is unmistakably unhappy with their relationship so Mary is grounded, but that doesn’t stop them.

Her mother has asked a priest to come to dinner, expecting him to speak to the two about what she considers to be a sinful relationship. When Father Fletcher arrives for the dinner, he is shocked to see Neal proclaiming he has finally found him. It becomes a blow to her plan when it turns out that Father Fletcher is Neal’s godfather. Considering Neal like a son, he has not seen him in more than six years. As the father leaves, Neal smiles, triumphant over the mother. She hated him more than ever.

Back to the story, Lizzy and Neal return to Lizzy’s house where her husband Lewis invites him in. Confused, Neal is shocked to see Joan coming down the stairs. Everything comes rushing back to Neal as he sees his love alive and well. The two women cook dinner in the kitchen, talking about Neal. Joan defends Neal’s choice to leave the hospital; that it was too much to watch her die. In the living room, Neal and Joan talk, obviously nervous but excited to be together. At dinner, the four planned what Neal and Joan would do together now. Lewis offers Neal a job interview and offers to allow him to live with them. In bathroom, Neal and Joan pine for each other. Dancing closely, lovingly, the two finally kiss.

Laying in living room, the two talk about the future together, Neal amazed that Joan has returned to him, a miracle. They hold each other. Neal jumps up frantically spouting about his clothes for the interview, Joan calms him and they kiss. Neal jumps up again, to get the suit from Ben. Joan wants to come but he won’t let her.

On his way he runs into a drunk Harry. Harry convinces Neal to come in for a beer. Neal ends up drunk and Harry convinces him to talk to Mary to get her to come out. About to leave, Neal is arrested when Mary’s mother calls police. He is allowed to make a phone call, but he doesn't know the phone number for Lewis and Lizzy's house. With Mary refusing to testify, the charges are dropped but the police hold him on the false premise of suspicion of burglary. Finally, after more time in jail, Neal is released. He has trouble remembering where Lewis and Lizzy's house is, and once he finally finds it, he finds the house dark and empty. He waits but eventually it is obvious they aren’t coming back. He lost his chance at a traditional family life with Joan. He walks back down the porch, hops into a car and drives off with it.

Finishing his letter, Neal places it in an envelope. Walking away, he throws the pages of his novel into the air, paper flying and landing everywhere.


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