MY LIFE (1993)
After the Oscar win, I could have done anything I wanted. I wanted to direct, which meant I had to have a script. I had an idea called Multiples, which was about a person with multiple personalities, and one of the personalities was God. I didn’t quite know where to go with that story. Then one night, I had a dream about a man who was dying. He was about to have his first child, and he knew he wouldn’t live long enough to see that child, so he decided to make a videotape about his life to leave behind. I woke up and said, “That’s a movie.” And I immediately started writing My Life.
My Life is really about the gift of pain and suffering. When you’re suffering, most people look for a release from that suffering. They look for doctors or healers who can offer release from suffering. But in the face of death, the only release from suffering is to accept suffering as it is. The deepest acceptance of suffering is absolutely liberating. Accepting the thing that seemed so unacceptable takes you into a place of extraordinary depth and wisdom.
The film opened on the same day as Mrs. Doubtfire. When I saw the full-page ads of Robin Williams in drag, it dawned on me fairly quickly that people going out on a Friday night, after a long hard week at the office, were going to be more interested in seeing Robin Williams in drag than Michael Keaton dying of cancer. I wished I had thought of that before I started writing the script. My Life failed at the box office. The reviews were brutal. I felt like such a failure.
Then one weekend, some months after the film came out, I went to a wedding and a woman there said she wanted to talk to me. She pulled me aside and said, “My husband died of cancer two years ago. I have an eleven-year-old son, and he could not talk to me about the death of his father. About a month ago, I learned that I have terminal breast cancer. I was told that I have about six months to live. I knew I didn’t want to leave this world without having a meaningful dialogue with my son. But I didn’t know how to do it. Then we went and saw your movie. During the movie, my son cried and cried and cried. When we got home, he crawled into my lap and we had a long talk that has made it possible for me to leave this world. I want to thank you for that.”
That was an amazing moment for me. I realized then why I had made this movie. I made it for her, and for her son. That was enough.