I Still Have A Crush On Val Kilmer

“Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans. ~John Lennon

Tonight I finally had a chance to watch a movie I have been curious about for a while. It’s a documentary about Val Kilmer, simply titled Val. The film is a combination of video Kilmer shot himself, long before the days of camera phones during the time when memories were recorded on large, clunky video recorders with footage that ended up on large, clunky VHS tapes, and more recent footage taken of him. Kilmer had a bout with throat cancer from 2015 to 2017. Chemotherapy and two tracheotomies stole his voice and left him with a hole in his throat through which he breathes and feeds himself. It’s sobering to watch the juxtaposition in footage between a handsome, winsome leading man and a man with tracheostomy tube who now travels the country to sign autographs at events like Comic Con. It’s a stark reminder of how life works.

Kilmer is eight years older than I am, and I had a crush on him from his first feature film, Top Secret, in 1984 when I was 16. He had an on-screen charisma that came at me like a freight train. After Top Secret, I went to see him in Real Genius, a film I have seen at least a dozen times now and still adore. I saw Top Gun because he was in it (I never cared much for Tom Cruise, always preferring blond men) and then I went to see him in Willow, The Doors, Tombstone, and Batman Forever. There was something about him, a depth that you don’t often see in handsome, Hollywood-leading-man types. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it was there.

Watching Val, I found that depth again. At times it was hard to tell if the recent footage of him was him being himself and living his life with a camera recording it or him playing a character, a Hollywood star who survives cancer only to realize he’s lost the only career he ever wanted. Whether or not he was a “difficult” actor because he cared about the craft of acting and telling a story is up for debate, but I get the sense from the film that Val’s perfectionism regarding his chosen profession likely ruffled feathers. After Batman Forever, a film that was a big commercial success, he turned down the title role in the sequel because his experience in the first film, being cramped and miserable in a suit that barely allows you to stand or move without help, much less hear or breathe well, was simply not an opportunity with growth potential. But, you don’t get to turn down a request to reprise your role as Batman without fallout.

I don’t want to say anything else about Val himself or the film because I believe art is best left to be interpreted by each individual their own way. What I can say is that the real life struggles of the man behind the actor are profound and, in many ways, universal. As I watched, I was struck by how ephemeral it all is. How we think we have all the time in the world for our passions, our work, our loves, our family, and our own self-development and growth, when we have no control at all over any of it. Ever. One day you’re creating what you hope will be the pinnacle of your life’s work. The next, you grapple with the knowledge it’s gone and can never be resurrected.

We don’t have all the time in the world to live out our dreams. Each day we have that day and nothing more. It’s what we do in the aftermath of when our dreams fall apart that matters. Val founded a creative studio in Los Angeles and created a film about his life thus far. He may have difficulty speaking aloud and being understood, but I suspect he is not finished trying to express himself through art.

A Better Life

Our incredibly fortunate American family on a fjord in Norway in 2009.

Today, while ironing of course, I watched a film I’ve wanted to see ever since the lead actor was nominated for an Academy Award this past winter. I’d never heard of it until the nominations came out, but when a quiet film finds its way into the hearts of the Academy voters I usually pay attention. The movie is called A Better Life. The story revolves around a father, who happens to be a Mexican illegal living and working in the U.S., and his 14 year old son who is a U.S. citizen. The son edges closer and closer to the East LA gang scene and his father worries about him. It is an honest story about a hard-working man whose only desire in life is to give his son a better life than he has had, hence the title.

I loved the movie because it made me think. It forced me to face some of my own prejudices and misconceptions. I can’t tell you where exactly I stand on the issue of illegal immigration because, being a grey person not prone to black and white absolutism, I’m not sure. I can clearly see and understand both sides of the issue. We have laws in this country about citizenship, and I do see the importance of upholding them. On the other hand, though, both sets of my great grandparents came here from Poland on a boat circa 1917, landed at Ellis Island speaking no English, and were able to give their own children a better life than the one they had. I wouldn’t be here if the United States hadn’t let them in nearly 100 years ago.

As Americans, it’s too easy to forget how blessed we are. We may talk about how proud we are of our nation, but most of us have done nothing to earn our citizenship other than to have been born here. Let’s face it. We didn’t have a say in that matter anyway. When you think about how most people on this planet live, we are unbelievably fortunate by virtue of dumb luck. So, it’s fairly easy to sit on our lofty hill and tell others that we’re all full up at the inn. After all, we’re here and our kids will have the benefit of education and health care, so what do we care?

What today’s Ironing Matinee reminded me is that when we talk about “illegals” we’re conveniently labeling others in a way that helps us to forget they’re human beings. As “illegals,” they’re not people, families, fathers, mothers, children. They’re criminals, burdens, statistics, scourges. It’s our apathy about these immigrants’ humanity that troubles me. If you get a chance, watch A Better Life. No matter where you stand on the issue of illegal immigration, it might give you some insight into how hard life is for our neighbors south of the border and how hard it is for them still while they’re living here illegally trying to do the best they can for their families. It might remind you that at our core we’re all the same. We want what is best for our children, and that notion can’t be contained by laws or even by borders.