Photo credit: Paramount/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

We liked Val Kilmer’s film about his life, Val. Have you seen it?

After watching it, I wondered, Why was that film so compelling?

To start, people who’ve experienced tremendous success are almost always of interest, right? Anyone who has scaled the mountain of their profession, not to mention managing to stay on top for a long time, is different than most people. We can’t help but be curious about how they did something that most people haven’t figured out how to do.

Movie stars are usually of interest, too, of course. You can’t help but wonder what it’s like to be them. And almost everyone wants at least one of the things they have: money, status, power or influence, or a great social life and unique experiences. But we also want to see if we don’t want what they have. Maybe we’re hoping it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, so that we don’t have to experience the discomfort of envying them. 

In fact, there are aspects of Kilmer’s current situation that are not enviable. If he were now a gently worn but easily recognizable version of the handsome, successful person he was when he was young and if he had had a relatively easy last couple of decades, a film about his life would possibly just be a victory lap. But because he has experienced significant setbacks, some of which have possibly been caused in part by his own actions and choices, he is a touching figure.

To me, the most impactful thing about the film is that he’s in a more difficult situation than most but he’s happier than many. 

He has said, “I feel wonderful, despite how I sound.” (You’ll find out what he’s referring to when you see the film.) Throughout it, his joie de vivre, gratitude for his family, and appreciation of the unique experiences he’s had are evident.

Another thing that makes the film compelling is that, because he has so much footage, from early childhood to later adulthood, you see his life play out before your eyes. It’s so rare to see the full sweep of someone’s existence on this planet, it’s awe-inspiring. It’s hard not to use the word “epic”—to describe anyone’s life, no matter the person has had a big life or not. The passage of time alone is epic. 

And the fact that we’re heading toward the same destiny unites us all. Whether you’ve played Batman or dated Cher or not, you’re going to die. Eventually, we all will be old, we all will have endured unimaginable losses, we all will exhibit physical wear and tear, and we all will face our mortality. As you look at footage of Val when he was young, all the way up to how and where he is today, you can’t help but think of your own youth, your own middle age, and your own imminent old age. You can’t help but think about your own life choices and what has gone well and what hasn’t. You can’t help but think of your own attitude and outlook when you witness his. 

Some things that elevate the film:

The drama of really good luck and really bad luck. 
The way he has turned his photos, experiences and memories into art, in the form of scrapbooks and more. 
The imaginative editing of the section about his mom, after her passing. 
His colorful and creative self-expression, through art, his choice of work projects, and what he wears. 
The contribution of his son, who is a talented narrator and whose voice adds warmth. 
His revelation about attending autograph signing events.
His ability to forgive and accept others. 
His exuberant love of his children. 
His experience of grace. 
The ‘closing statements’ he makes in the final moments of the film.​

After seeing Val, I felt like I had been transported on a journey of an alternative life I might’ve had. I felt like I understood more about the human condition for having walked in his shoes.

And I felt the full force of the miracle of life, that we each experience: great tragedy, incredible luck, overwhelming experiences of love, and the surreal drama of being on this plane of existence for a finite period of time.

The film offers everything I could want in a work of art.

If you’ve seen it, I’m curious to hear what part in particular stood out to you. Please let me know in the Comments.


p.s. You can stream Val on Amazon Prime.

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