May 2, 2012
10: 51 PM

The Straight Story (1999)

A warm bed and a roof sounds a might better than eating a hotdog on a stick with an old geezer that is traveling on a lawnmower”, says Alvin to an insecure, confused young girl on the highway who’s running away from everything.

David Lynch, a master at mercurial filmmaking, takes a tiny break from his absurd brilliance as seen in masterpieces such as Blue Velvet and The Elephant Man and comes up with one of the finest, and mature, and unrelenting travelogues that will live through generations as a silent, profound monument to a wise old man called Alvin Straight.

Alvin is a stubborn man with a crooked back, wanting to visit his estranged brother who has suffered a bad stroke recently. He can’t see well and has no driver’s license. He doesn’t like someone else driving his bus. And he wants to get on the road all by himself. So what is he left with? A measly old lawnmower from his backyard.

He rigs the mower to a small trailer holding the reserves and it becomes his home for the next five weeks across the country. The trip is how he yearns to reconcile all the anger and vanity that separated them – a hard swallow of his pride as he points out.

The Straight Story is an extremely slow and nuanced feature you could almost walk alongside the riding mower as a mute spectator of his dogged perseverance. Those profound insights and wisecracks from Alvin’s mouth over the crackling bonfire with strangers make this movie a truly unforgettable journey into the unmasked, steadfast mind of a dignified, veteran traveler. The most commendable aspect of this movie is how warm and hospitable the strangers are. Sometimes, you feel how great the world would be if there were people like these everywhere. Wouldn’t we all be basking in the glory of good old idealism?

The Straight Story has great sights and sounds to offer. What less could you expect from Lynch who thrives on visual storytelling? Gorgeous aerial shots of those cornfields with an endearing cello playing in background, sounds of rustling leaves in the camping wild, crackling fire, and bucking mower engine settle you in for a realistic experience.   

Watching The Straight Story is a fulfilling experience in itself like sitting on the banks of some still water, in peace and quiet, watching the sun go down, absorbing all serene about it, occasionally looking at your reflection. You then throw in a few pebbles that bounce off the surface causing ripples that gather your attention and ruffle you a bit, sending you reeling into nostalgic moments, lifelong regrets, and unfulfilled actions, and driving you to think about reconciliation, until they fade out in symmetry. And in the end, you stand up contented, rub off the mud in your pants, and leave home with a smile.

Richard Farnsworth, playing Alvin Straight, delivers a supremely contained performance carrying great warmth and dignity in the character, thus paying homage to that remarkable journey by the real Alvin who in all stubbornness wanted to finish what he had started all by himself. Lynch creates scenes, minimalistic in nature, yet travels great depths, sometimes, even in single stroke. Only in a scene where a row of cyclists whiz past Alvin riding on the mower, will you realize how faster your world is than Alvin’s.

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