The Straight Story
A film by David Lynch
1999/ USA/Col/ 112 mins
5th Jan 2014; 5.45pm
Perks Mini Theater
Somewhere along the way, our world got itself in a damn hurry. And maybe more than any great American road movie it took an old man on a lawnmower to remind us that life's journey should never be rushed.
The first thing in director David Lynch's strange, tender film is a vast night sky winking with stars; but those stars died long ago. All we see now are fading memories, their light reaching us after a one-way trip along the cosmic interstate.
And so it goes for 73-year-old Alvin Straight. Looking up into the night, he remembers the estranged older brother he hasn't spoken to for 10 years. "I want to sit with him and look up at the stars, like we used to, so long ago," he'll tell a stranger later in the film.
When he hears his brother has had a stroke, Alvin realises their journey through time is nearly over. He can barely walk. His eyesight's too bad to drive a car. But he must make peace, must make the 270-mile trip from Iowa to his brother's house in Mount Zion, Wisconsin. Alvin hits the road, heading down the two-lane blacktop on the trip of a lifetime. At 10mph. On his lawnmower.
Especially Alvin. Looking like a crumpled road map, actor Richard Farnsworth shows us a man who's learned that every moment of life is a gift. It's a majestic performance. Alvin's stubborn grace and casual dignity brings out the best in everyone he meets (a pregnant runaway, a hysterical driver who claims to have run over 14 deer). Through his marble-blue eyes and Lynch's camera, the ordinary world starts looking like a thing of wonder. Filming the midwest in its autumnal glory – wheat fields and sunsets, lightning and gentle rain – Lynch transforms a geriatric road trip into a gentle American parable that's quietly awestruck by life itself.
The emotion hits you like a left hook; you just don't see it coming. As Alvin shares his haunted memories of the second world war with a fellow veteran, The Straight Story delivers an anti-war message stronger than a thousand movies about conflict.
Suddenly, an old man on a lawnmower doesn't seem so strange. No stranger than it should be to learn that The Straight Story, shot along the route taken by the real Alvin Straight, is a true story. Of course it is.
(Source: The Guardian)
Born in precisely the kind of small-town American setting so familiar from his films, David Lynch spent his childhood being shunted from one state to another as his research scientist father kept getting relocated. He attended various art schools, married, and fathered future director Jennifer Chambers Lynch shortly after he turned 21. That experience, plus attending art school in a particularly violent and run-down area of Philadelphia, inspired Eraserhead (1976), a film that he began in the early 1970s (after a couple of shorts) and which he would work on obsessively for five years. The final film was initially judged to be almost unreleasably weird, but thanks to the efforts of distributor Ben Barenholtz, it secured a cult following and enabled Lynch to make his first mainstream film (in an unlikely alliance with Mel Brooks), though Elephant Man, The (1980) was shot through with his unique sensibility. Its enormous critical and commercial success led to Dune (1984), a hugely expensive commercial disaster, but Lynch redeemed himself with Blue Velvet (1986), his most personal and original work since his debut. He subsequently won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival with the dark, violent road movie Wild at Heart (1990), and achieved a huge cult following with his surreal TV series "Twin Peaks" (1990), which he adapted for the big screen, though his comedy series "On the Air" (1992) was less successful. He also draws comic strips and has devised multimedia stage events with regular composer Angelo Badalamenti.