Film Review: ‘Montage of Heck’ (2015)

By Ben Niedrach and Mary Lynn Ritch

Nineties music began in a greenhouse in Washington. The guy that pulled the trigger was Kurt Cobain of Nirvana.  We all know the story by now; tortured genius commits suicide due to the fact that he was a tortured genius addicted to heroin. But there is more to the story as we will learn in watching “Montage of Heck.” Kurt Cobain had not treated obvious mental health issues, and no one did anything about it or knew how to address them.

Defiantly on the forefront of celebrating alienation, Cobain somehow furthered the idea that being strange, creative, and able to think on your own and not apologize for it are attributes. In a direct contrast of his work, Cobain’s last act of life made him a celebrated myth whose light never seems to fade. People still talk about him, which is why it’s not surprising that yet another documentary is being released in his honor, but for the first time, it’s fully authorized and backed by the Cobain family.

Most of the documentary is extremely inspirational and creative to watch. Director Brett Morgen pulled all the stops turning Cobain’s many doodles into cartoon sequences. He incorporated super 8 home movies and narrations to make it seem like the subject is telling his own story. There’s a scene where baby Kurt waves sweetly to the camera and you can’t help but feel emotional knowing the story of what’s to come.

In the film, it is obvious Cobain’s downward spiral began early on in his life following his parent’s divorce. The trigger was that no one knew how to nurture him due to his sensitivity and untreated but diagnosed manic depression. His step-mother puts Cobain’s mindset in perspective, saying that he couldn’t sit still, lashed out by picking on his step-siblings, bounced from home to home, eventually turning to street due to the rejection of his entire family. Viewers also learn that Cobain couldn’t handle humiliation very early on after a suicide attempt due to a talk about having sex with a mentally disabled girl and being the laughing stock of the entire school. Both rejection and humiliation haunted him throughout his short life and contributed to his death.

Cobain was the outsider, friendless loser, and tortured soul that had nothing except a world that did not understand him. Once he got a steady girlfriend and established for himself an outlet in which his music could be heard, he seemed to be the happiest. He was an uncontrollable force of creativity that the underground music simply couldn’t contain.

When his music caught on and the success of Nirvana spread nationwide, the world Cobain so hated started to love and adore him. The message he worked so tirelessly to achieve was given to corporate sponsors, who plastered it on overpriced T-shirts and stickers. It started the seed of hatred in his belly for the media and that hatred only expanded once reporters started writing about his personal life.

“Montage of Heck” dives deeper into another plot line we already know—his marriage to Courtney Love and him navigating fatherhood. In the 21 years since Cobain’s death, Love (who is a star in her own right) has been demonized and even accused of her husband’s apparent murder by conspiracy theorists. In the film, we see a different side to Love. She is a brilliant, loving, and funny free spirit, who banters back in forth with her equally quirky husband whom she adores. She is also an addict.

After the birth of their only daughter Frances Bean Cobain, rumors swirled about Loves’s heroin use during her pregnancy which turned out to be true. There are many scenes with their only daughter as a baby, who is 22 now. While watching, especially during a hard to watch moment where Love is cutting her hair while she is sitting in the lap of her father who is high as a kite and covered with sores, you can’t help but feel like that baby is a survivor. The story ends abruptly after touching on the heroin use with a simple stock card saying Cobain ended his own life in 1994.

“Montage of Heck” is a harrowing incredible piece of art and gives Cobain fans a little bit of closure by showing us the descent into his depression. The movie seemed incomplete and lacking, like seeing most of a beautiful painting. There were parts that went unexplained, but viewers are able to fill in the gap which makes this documentary so masterful. It doesn’t give a clear picture as to why Kurt Cobain took his own life, but it does give enough insight to figure it out.

What made Nirvana relatable to many is that the leader suffered from something that affects 1 in 5 Americans. Every 40 seconds someone attempts suicide in the United States. It is the 10th leading cause of death, killing 36,891 people in 2009. In the beginning of the film, Cobain’s best friend and founding Nirvana member Krist Novoselic mentioned that all the signs were there, but no one did anything about it or knew how to. The ending of Cobain’s story is a tragic one because he numbed his feelings with addiction and ultimately gave into the lies that his depression told him leaving his friends and family behind. One positive thing that has come from this documentary and his death is the fact that depression is not being pushed to the side. Instead, it is shoved into the spotlight of awareness.

“Montage of Heck” is available on HBO and HBOgo.  For more information, visit:

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