18 – The Straight Story

The Straight Story is a quiet, subtle, G-rated tale of a stubborn old man (Richard Farnsworth) who undertakes a six-week, 200-plus-mile journey from Laurens, Iowa to Mt. Zion, Wisconsin in 1994. Alvin Straight, 73 years old, is a physical wreck of man. He needs two canes to get around. He can’t drive owing to poor eyesight. But his estranged brother has just suffered a debilitating stroke, and Alvin is determined to go see him. Since he can’t drive, and since he’ll be damnned if he’ll let someone in a bus drive him there, Alvin chooses the mode of transportation he knows best – a 1966 John Deere riding mower.

This is such an odd movie for a filmmaker like David Lynch to make. The creator of such cultish films as Eraserhead, Dune, and Blue Velvet generally makes weird, offbeat movies. His films are usually rated R (or worse), and are brimming with stylish violence and a real sense of atmosphere, creepy as it may be. With The Straight Story, none of these characteristics are apparent. I half-expected to see Alvin turn into a homicidal maniac who likes to lop off ears and drink the blood out of them in a crazed, stylish, symbolistic dance. But no, this was as gentle, as moving a movie as you’ll see nowadays (aside from certain made-for-cable movies). There isn’t an ounce of meanness, not a whit of wickedness, not one dollop of demonic possession. It’s as placid as a quilting bee, and what’s more, it’s absolutely beautiful. If you’ve seen any of Lynch’s movies, you know the director has his own trademark camera angels and movements, and these are unmistakeable in this film, as well. From each loving look at the amber waves of grain (okay, maybe they’re golden) to the stark farmhouses poised in repose, each camera angle seems to have been painstakingly tended to. There’s love in the details, friends, and this is one of those rare, rare movies that’ll stay in your mind for years. And to top if all off, you have an Oscar-nominated performance from Richard Farnsworth, a former stuntman-turned-thespian. There’s hardly an emotion from cranky old Alvin Straight for most of the film, the repressed WWII vet on a mission. The casting couldn’t have been better in this movie. Farnsworth is an absolute delight as Alvin, and his eyes reveal more than the facial expressions of many well-paid actors. Tired, wrinkly, and a little despondent, Alvin’s eyes express everything from sadness to resignation to resiliance. The moment when Alvin finally reaches his brother’s house is very memorable, the kind film scholars should be talking about for decades.

The Straight Story: 9

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One Response to “18 – The Straight Story”

  1. My Kids Website Says:

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