The Dialectics of Val Kilmer’s Elbow by Andrew Davie

A Rolling Fire by Daniel Hampton
September 16, 2018
Art by Sultonah Scott
September 18, 2018

Heat (1995) – Director’s Commentary, Michael Mann.

…Neil comes home to an under-furnished house…

…The idea of how and why Neil McCauley lives his life is expressed right now…

Owen finished his coffee; it was his fifth cup, but the shakes abandoned him years ago. Camus had spoken of man’s struggle with the absurd as creating a tension which made life endurable. Owen thought of coffee the same way. He needed to drink enough, so he was right on the precipice. Although, it was a fine line; he could end up like Balzac, dead from caffeine poisoning.

…By keeping yourself free of attachments because they ratchet up risk…

“Amen,” thought Owen, “No attachments.”

Hey, Owen.

Owen pressed pause on the remote control. De Niro, as Neil McCauley, stood frozen staring out at the ocean, cloaked in blue, reminiscent of the painting “Pacific” by Alex Colville.

Don’t be afraid.

Owen stared at the screen.

It’s me.

Suddenly on the screen, even though the film had remained paused, was Val Kilmer’s left elbow. A deformity from Olecranon bursitis, inflammation of the fluid sac at the base of the ulna; also known as student’s elbow, lunger’s elbow, Popeye elbow, or miner’s elbow.

“Who are you — ‘God?’”

That remains to be seen, but we are having a conversation.

Owen didn’t feel the coffee cup leave his fingers or hear the reverberation of sound waves as it clanged upon the table. When the elbow quoted from “Real Genius,” Owen knew he was, in fact, conversing with a higher being.

“What do you want?”

I need you to understand.

Time and Space collapsed upon itself. Owen could see the poster for Beverly Hills Cop, starring Sylvester Stallone. But, Stallone’s ambition dwarfed the proposed budgetary constraints.

He wanted to have a scene in which Axel Foley, in a Lamborghini, played chicken with a freight train. Instead, it was Eddie Murphy who played “Axel Foley” with Steven Berkoff as bad guy “Victor Maitland.” The following year, Rambo: First Blood, Part 2 comes out. Head bad guy: Steven Berkoff. One of the writers was Kevin Jarre. Sage Stallone recommended George P. Cosmotos to direct.

“I don’t understand,” Owen said.

Jesus, wait a second… alright, so, the next year Stallone took his ideas from Beverly Hills Cop and made…

“I don’t know.”

Come on; in Beverly Hills Cop he wanted to name the character Axel Cobretti.

“Oh, shit. Cobra?”

Ding ding ding. Cobra, directed by George P. Cosmotos. The film was also based partially on the novel “Fair Game,” which is only relevant because ten years later, they remade fair game, and Steven Berkoff was in it as: the head Russian bad guy.

“I think I’m beginning to comprehend.”

We haven’t scratched the surface yet. Flash forward — Kevin Jarre writes Glory, then Tombstone; he gets the chance to direct. Things go poorly, shooting falls behind, and Robert Mitchum, who had been cast as Old Man Clanton, injured himself and withdraws.

“What happens? Wait… Steven Berkoff became the head Russian bad guy?

Very funny.

“They bring in Cosmotos?”

They do. They paired down the script, and Kilmer delivered a marvelous performance as southern dandy John Henry “Doc” Holiday. Ultimately, the following year he played “Chris Shiherlis” in Heat. Now, were those events preordained, or was it random chance which led to this moment?

“Am I having a myocardial infarction?”

No. It’s 2am, and you’re pontificating existential philosophy with a distended vesicle of calcium deposits.

Oh, man. This is my Turin horse moment, isn’t it?

You’re comparing yourself to Nietzsche?


The movie played, and Neil McCauley spoke.

You wanna be making moves on the street, have no attachments, allow nothing to be in your life you cannot walk out on in thirty seconds or flat if you spot the heat around the corner.”

“That’s what I’m talking about,” Owen said.

Listen to the commentary.

… Later, when Neil McCauley expresses it, nothing means anything, if he can’t have this woman with him. His plans, substance, the material substance of his life is rendered meaningless if he’s not sharing it…

“So what are you saying? I’m going to end up in a steam tunnel?”



Owen pressed power for the DVD player; on Television was a replay of the Hasim Rahman Evander Holyfield fight. Round 7. They had just collided heads, and a severe hematoma appeared on Rahman’s forehead about the size of a ripe lemon.

You think you can get rid of me?

“Jesus Christ.”

No, Hasim Rahman’s Hematoma.

“What’s the point?”

Owen turned off the television set. Like Antaeus, it immediately sprang back to life. This time the image of hockey mask wearing “The Lord Humungus” the top of his head a latticework of scars and a distinct boil.

“I understand your pain,” Humungous told his mohawked dog of war Wez as he placed him in a standing rear naked chokehold and rendered him unconscious. “We all lost someone we love.”

The DVD played again. This time, Al Pacino as Vincent Hanna took up the screen.

“I gotta hold on to my angst. I preserve it because I need it. It keeps me sharp, on the edge, where I gotta be.”

The TV flashed an electromagnetic pulse, and the room went completely dark. Owen was reduced to a convulsing mess. He felt simultaneously born of two father’s: the Apollonian Neil McCauley and the Dionysian Lord Humungus battling it out for what Hasim Rahman’s hematoma might infer to be possession of his soul.

Val Kilmer’s Elbow spoke a final time, paraphrasing the words of Camus from “The Myth of Sisyphus.”

One always finds one’s burden again. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile…The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.

One must imagine Sisyphus happy.



About the Author

Andrew Davie received an MFA in creative writing from Adelphi University. He taught English in Macau on a Fulbright Grant. Currently, he teaches in Virginia. His work can be read in Bartleby Snopes, Necessary Fiction, The South Dakota Review, and FLAPPERHOUSE among others. His website: