Kevin Lewis is the director of “Willys Wonderland” starring Nicolas Cage as The Janitor, which is available today on VOD.
Who is The Janitor? Is he a quiet drifter who stumbles upon a band of murderous, satanic-possessed animatronics? Yes. Is he Nicolas Cage, who is not only one of the most amazing actors, but a wonderful partner to make a movie with? Absolutely yes. Is he G.O. Parsons, who wrote a wholly original script? 100 percent yes. Is he Jeremy Daniel Davis, who worked tirelessly every day for years to see “Willy’s Wonderland” finally get to the finish line? A resounding yes.
Is he the producers who pushed relentlessly hard to see this movie get made? No doubt yes. Is he Emoi, who not only gave Willy a voice that wasn’t written on the page, but also composed a pulse-pounding soundtrack that is the heart and soul of “Willy’s Wonderland?” Definitely yes. Is he three-time Academy Award winner Paul N.J. Ottosson, who did the sound design/mix for me as favor to a friend? Oh yes. Is he Dave Newbert, the incredible DP, and all the cast and crew who made “Willy’s” what it is today? Assuredly yes. Is he me? The director of “Willy’s” who, as a director to tell the proper narrative, you have to see through the eyes of the characters in your story? Yes.
But I am also The Janitor because I am a survivor of COVID-19.
Two weeks ago I was rushed into the ER with COVID-19 viral bilateral pneumonia and two blood clots in my lungs. My world had changed. I was not staring into the abyss, I was living it. Blood polyps surrounded my heart and I was in enormous pain because I couldn’t breathe. My oxygen level was at 82 and a fire was in my heart that I could not extinguish. After spending several days in complete agony with an oxygen mask blowing into my lungs at 100 mph and blocking my vision, I was not getting better — I was getting worse. It was decided by my doctor that I was to be admitted to the ICU for 24-hour monitoring. I was poked and prodded with needles and tubes, wheeled through CAT scans and X-rays, and heard muffled conversations of lung transplants, never to exercise again, and, of course, death.
The days ticked by slowly as I struggled day and night with the pain of not being able to breathe. With an oxygen mask jammed up my nostrils, making my nose drip with blood, and being wired up like some Frankenstein monster, the mind can play tricks on you. The isolation, loneliness, and being the most vulnerable in your life can have lasting effect.
The nights are where the demons come out. Your mind can go to places you never thought it could go. Self-doubt creeps up on you like a monster in the dark filling your head, making you feel weak, afraid, and vulnerable. Prone Prone Prone. That is what they tell you to do. That was the first advice I got from the IV specialist whose father-in-law passed away this December of COVID. He didn’t listen to the doctors and nurses, and now he is gone. The IV specialist asked to pray for me, and I was so grateful that he did. Prayer is a powerful thing, and I knew I needed anything on my side at this point in my life if I were truly going to make it. Texts from my friends and loved ones got me by. Feebly, I would be able to type one thing that reminded me of my friends and family and I told them that and that I loved them. That was my Punch Pop that got me through the day: the sincerity to tell the people that truly mattered in my life how much they have meant to me all these years.
As I laid there, I pictured my table. It was messy and it needed to be organized. Cleaning it up would entail telling my soon-to-be 16-year-old son that he is now the man of the house, saying to my 15-year-old daughter to take care of her mother and little brothers, telling my 5- and 7-year-old sons that “Daddy will always be with them in their hearts” and telling my 90-year-old mother who survived a hit-and-run car accident when I was 10 years old, had her face clean wiped off, and had 50-or-some surgeries through 40 years that her inspiration was the battery that powered me through my life. Figuring out how my wife could sell some of my pop-culture movie memorabilia that would give her some extra financial breathing room, and of course telling her what a beautiful human being and fantastic wife of 20 years she has been to me. She is and always will be my best friend.
Every day I worked at getting better. Retraining myself to breathe again was the hardest part. Pushing the blood out of my lungs by making myself cough until I gagged came a close second. The highlight of the day was talking to the nurses and doctors, finding out about their lives and how kind and special they truly are. Through the week I would do whatever it took to heal my lungs. I thought making movies was hard; this was making movies times 10. Being in a room with the fluorescent light beaming down on you and no windows can eat away at your soul, especially when you are fighting for your very life. You have to condition the mind to block it out, a lot harder to do than it sounds. I would always watch the door, imagining it bursting open with the doctor telling me I was free to go. That never came, but at least it was a positive thought, and I needed a lot of positive thoughts to get by.
Finally, after inhaling the hospital food, “prone”-ing my life away and pushing the poison out of my body, I could slowly feel my strength creep back into my bones. My appetite grew stronger, my thoughts became more positive, the music from my iPhone from — The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” to Nick Cave’s “Jesus Alone” — became clearer and my will became like steel, determined at all costs to stay alive. Day and night, I worked my mind and body thinking about the table. But now the table was cleaner, my objectives clearer, and my mind and body as one. The positive visions started to become a reality as the doctor did burst into the door and tell me that “Kevin, you won the Super Bowl.” I was being transported out of the ICU after a week into a step-down unit. My oxygen had increased and I was no longer dependent on 95 percent, I only need 6 percent to get by, and I was going lower by the day. Tears flooded down my face like they did normally on the hour of every hour — especially when I thought of how I missed my family and friends — only this time they were tears of joy. Real, pure joy.
When I was wheeled away in my bed, claps and cheers erupted from the whole staff. These people saved my life and in a short week they all became my friends. “This is why we do what we do,” they told me, to see people like me move on out of the ICU and make it to the next level.
After two days in the step-down unit and working PT, it was time to finally go home. The doc was right, I did win the Super Bowl.
As I write this I am in my home. The sun is shining brighter, the apples that I crunch in my mouth taste sweeter, my kids are more angelic, and my wife is even more beautiful than she has ever been before.
So, I am The Janitor. I beat COVID like the nine-foot Orange Weasel and I am alive.
And you are The Janitor too. The human spirit is an amazing thing, and we all have it in us to soar to great heights, achieve incredible things, and to live our lives helping and caring for one another.
Whether it is the weasel and all his friends, a virus, or evil around the corner, we have the courage as mankind to stand up and do what is right. We have the will and determination to clean our own tables at our personal Willy’s Wonderland.
Yes, we are The Janitor.
“Willy’s Wonderland” is available on VOD.
Originally from Denver, Lewis’ early film efforts earned a scholarship to the school of cinema at USC, where he studied under directors John McTiernan and Renny Harlin and producer Lynda Obst. His first feature, “The Method” (starring Sean Patrick Flanery, Robert Forster, and Natasha Gregson Wagner), was acquired for distribution after its premiere at the 1996 Slamdance Film Festival. Other credits include “The Drop,” “Dark Heart,” “Downward Angel,” and “The Third Nail,” starring Chloe Grace Moretz, Charles S. Dutton, Jonathan Banks, John Savage, and Sean Young.