Spies Like Us: try-hard, vanity comedy
The fake pro-lifers reveal themselves

Val Kilmer's documentary about himself is seriously depressing

I haven't looked at what's available on streaming content for a while, but last weekend I took a gander and saw Val, a documentary about Val Kilmer by himself.

Apparently Kilmer is quite the amateur filmmaker, and has been since childhood.  He has a warehouse filled with film reels and videotape that tell the story of his life.  Last year he had a bunch of it spliced together and - since he can barely talk after suffering from throat cancer - he had his son provide the narration.

His is a tale of woe.

No, he didn't grow up in a garbage dump or suffer daily beatings, but his home life was both idyllic and nightmarish at the same time.  He was born into affluence, and his father moved to California to make even more money.  He and his two brothers were encouraged to be creative and so made their own movies, often parodying contemporary films. 

All well and good, and he decided to pursue and acting career and managed to gain admittance to the Juilliard school in New York where he met other soon-to-be famous people.

At about the same time, his youngest brother drowned in a hot tub after suffering an epileptic seizure.  This was his first grief.  His parents also divorced and his father - who (perhaps justly) blamed himself for his son's death - suffered financial difficulties.

When Kilmer got his breakthrough roles, his father turned to him for money and lost it all through crooked dealing.  Kilmer married the woman of his dreams and she left him - again taking all his money.

The picture that emerges is not flattering.  Kilmer's penchant for filming everything make him seem oddly detached from life, as if everything going on around him is for show.  He seems a hollow man, only able to reach people by playing other people.  All of his life goals are centered around acting and the arts and he steadily grows resentful of roles that are beneath him.

In the end, of course, he's reduced to doing guest appearances at conventions and film festivals and Val deliberately showcases his mixture of humility at the love of his fans and his contempt for himself in humoring them.

Throughout the film, Kilmer stresses his faith, but it's never really in evidence.  His parents were Christian Scientists, but we only see him go to church once - and it's a virtual service during Covid.   After his mother's death, he declares that in a dream he saw her and his brother together and that both were at last at peace, yet (unless I'm mistaken) he goes everywhere wearing bits of her clothes and jewelry.

To be clear, I don't fault him for his weaknesses.  After all, who am I to judge?  I'm simply remarking on the obvious incongruity between claiming peacefulness and the lack of its evidence.

If nothing else, the film is an object lesson in how people can "have it all" but never find fulfillment.


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