Thomas Wictor

The upside of being Christopher Walken

The upside of being Christopher Walken

I love Christopher Walken. His acting career, I mean. I know nothing about him personally, except for one quote that describes me perfectly. We’ll get to that in a minute.

He’s always great, even if the movie isn’t. Some of his best performances are in Catch Me if You Can, The Rundown, Sleepy Hollow, Suicide Kings, Last Man Standing, At Close Range, The Dead Zone, and Annie Hall.

My favorite Walken performance is in Click, a deeply frustrating squandered opportunity. Adam Sandler shows his stellar chops as a first-rate dramatic actor, but the movie is full of flatulence and boobie jokes to appeal to morons. The story is that Sandler is given a special remote control that works on real life, so he uses it to pause people and fast-forward situations he finds irritating or unpleasant. What he doesn’t realize until too late is that the remote has a memory for his preferences, so soon he’s fast-forwarding through his life without wanting to.

Walken plays Morty, whose name tells you his real role. Despite the coarseness and schmaltz, it’s still a terrific film, and Walken is magnificent. As a moving, tragic cautionary tale, Click is amazingly effective.

Years ago I read a quote from Christopher Walken that stayed with me.

“I am naturally foreign.”

Yes he is! And so am I. It’s saved me from making terrible choices. Though being naturally foreign made me virtually solitary, it also meant that I never became part of a senseless mob. My foreignness vaccinated me against dangerous group-think. Ever see The Ox-Bow Incident?

The madness of crowds

Most of what I find repulsive is due entirely to crowd following. Rather than get into the various popular-culture and political firestorms that rage through social media every few days—or hours—I’ll talk about the crowd’s need to single out a sacrificial victim and destroy him, her, or it.

At the height of the financial crisis, absolutely viable companies were randomly identified as shaky, causing investors to flee like a flock of geese running blindly from one side of the paddock to the other. Tim suffered enormous paper losses because investors pulled out their money, and the company’s stock tanked.

I’ve seen it happen to films, the most egregious case being Monster-in-Law, a wonderful film that critics and audiences claim is crap. Why? Because so many others have made the same bogus assessment. Some “taste maker” arbitrarily decided that the movie should die, and all the panicky geese went racing to that side of the paddock, terrified of not belonging.

Peer pressure controls adults! Professionals in their forties! With spouses and children! All it takes is a taunting singsong.

“You like Monster-in-Law. You like Monster-in Law.

“I do not! Stop saying that!”

Simply Irresistible is another movie that was singled out for destruction, completely undeservedly. I challenge you to watch the peach scene without choking up. It’s a funny, gentle, witty, humane, optimistic movie. There’s nothing wrong with it.

Being naturally foreign means I’m not susceptible to taste makers and human geese. The downside is that what I write will probably not have mass appeal, but that’s okay. If you read my interview in Fanfare, you’ll see why I write. I’ll inform you when the magazine comes out.

I believe in my heart of hearts that we’re not meant to be geese. Yes, it’s comforting to be just like all the other fowl and have the warmth of their bodies against us. Being naturally foreign, I’m cold much of the time. And sometimes I feel like this.


Still, I’d rather live alone on a cold, distant planetoid than be a goose that can’t see or hear clearly because everyone in the crowd is blocking my view and honking incessantly. I do my best thinking in silence, when I’m by myself.

My earliest emotion was alienation. It scared me; the thought of being forever on the outside was unbearable. Nobody seemed to understand me. Everything I did and said was wrong. I’d go to baseball and football games and cheer along with everyone else, but I never felt I was part of the proceedings. Though I pretended to be one with the crowd, my natural foreignness always came through. The crowd knew I was faking.

When I went to my First Communion in the Catholic Church, I tried really hard to believe that the wafer was the actual body of Jesus Christ, but I could never make that leap. Long before I stopped going to church, I gave up taking Communion. I couldn’t continue the pretense. My actions were phony, so they certainly wouldn’t have fooled God.

I’ve published three books on military history and hope to finish a fourth fairly soon. The crowd rejects my books because I’m not a member. I can’t honk. My books are more a kind of meowing. Lots of people don’t like cats because of their independence. Well, that’s exactly why I prefer them. The slavish devotion of dogs unnerves me. Our dog Charlie didn’t know he was a dog; he thought he was one of us kids. He wasn’t obsequious in the least, seeing himself as equal to everyone in the family. We got along fine.

Tim and I have spoken at length about our sense of isolation. The way he describes it, everyone’s doing a dance that we can’t figure out. We don’t begrudge the dancers their dance. If they’re having fun and being fulfilled, then they should keep dancing. For Tim and me, though, the price of joining the dance is too great. True, not all dances require that you scoop out your head and let someone else fill it with whatever they want. But most do. The point of the dance is to execute it exactly the way everyone else does.

And, as Tim just told me a few minutes ago, the truth is that they wouldn’t let us join the dance anyway. Mutants aren’t welcome anywhere.

Life is a cost-benefit analysis. For me the cost of being a dancing goose isn’t worth the benefits. And I’ve seen the damage that geese do when they’re on a tear. You can’t stop them. I won’t be involved in that. Two things I can’t tolerate are mindless aggression and irrationality.

Society requires some level of dancing in order to function. Some people pick up an assault rifle if they can’t dance or aren’t allowed to. I’m not angry about being naturally foreign. It’s allowed me to achieve peace of mind that would’ve eluded me if I’d chosen a more conventional life. My original plan was to study business at Rice University, even though I hated the idea. As a senior in high school, I thought I really didn’t have any other options.

Luckily Rice rejected me. I went to Lewis and Clark College, where I took part in an exchange program that sent me to Japan for six months, and then I went back to Japan in 1985, met Carmen in 1987, and was granted three years of utter happiness. That wouldn’t have happened if I’d been accepted at Rice. If I’d graduated with an MBA, gotten married, and had children, today I’d be a divorced alcoholic whose kids hated him. Or I’d be dead.

Being naturally foreign is hard, but it’s my fate. And it has its compensations. I showed this video to Mom a few days before she went into the hospital, and she loved it. The music, Walken’s dancing, and the setting were all magically bizarre to her. She was spellbound.

Your video cheered her up when she needed it, so thank you, Christopher.