“Well, the worst part of being old is remembering when you was young.”
Most people know that the films of David Lynch often deal with rather dark, suggestive and exclusively adult-oriented themes. So it’s a bit of a surprise when you put in a David Lynch film only to see the Disney logo greet you at the very start. But with “The Straight Story” Lynch shows how flexible a filmmaker he can be, without jeopardizing his vision and style.
The story follows the 73 year old Alvin Straight, who after a collapse of his own finds out that his brother, Lyle, suffered a heavy stroke. Alvin decides to travel on a lawnmower from his home town of Laurens, Iowa, to Mt. Zion, Wisconsin, where his brother is located in order to restore their relationship. The film is structured around this journey and the encounters Alvin has with various strangers. In these encounters we find out more about Alvin and his family.
With this the film dabbles in some dangerously corny moralizing that Disney films are generally known for. But David himself is also no stranger to corny. In fact he has perfected it in to an art-form with his past projects (most notably the fantastic TV series “Twin Peaks”), and he uplifts the potentially heavy-handedness of these scenes in to something that’s not only uniquely Lynchian but also truly touching. And he manages to avoid the manipulative overtones that scenes like this would have in lesser hands; even though it is fact that this is essentially what film directing is in many ways - audience manipulation. Another big reason for why these scenes work so well is also Richard Farnsworth, who plays Alvin. He manages to project a gentle and calm wisdom that is very hard to resist.
So, the Disney factor aside, there are other details that make this film stand out in David Lynch’s career. It’s the only film of his that he did not write the screenplay for, and is only the third and last film which he himself did not develop from ground up; the other two being “The Elephant Man” and “Dune”. And from this viewpoint “The Elephant Man” is certainly the closest relation to this film. Both films tell a very straightforward and human story that is told from the perspective of a protagonist who is based on a real-life figure, and both feature very little of Lynch’s more esoteric tendencies.
In a certain way this film is also an interesting counterpoint to “Lost Highway” as well. Where the protagonist of that film is running away from the truths and responsibilities of his actions, in “The Straight Story” Alvin goes to meet them them head on.
Here Lynch focuses mainly on the reflections of a man in the twilight of his life; mostly through the values of family. Lynch presents a very lush world around Alvin, great crop fields and blue skies that have a melancholy note to them primarily because we get to see them through the eyes of a man who is always reminded of his mortality.
Ultimately this gives a somewhat sobering edge to the film, but also an edge that is completely honest, life-affirming and in many ways inspiring.
Richard Farnsworth - Alvin
Sissy Spacek - Rose
Everett McGill - Tom
The Straight Story on IMDb