Dir: David Lynch
Absolutely one of my favorite movies of all time. I have been revisiting a few favorites lately, especially the lesser known character study films that I love so. I have seen few films that rival this one in terms of sheer beauty; everything about it is loving and tender, wise yet subtle. It is a true artistic triumph.
Richard Farnsworth, in real life aged and near death, portrays Alvin Straight, whose own impending death sends him on a journey of reconciliation across Iowa to visit his estranged brother. The story is told through brief chance encouters on the road with all manner of people, each one illuminating some well earned knowledge that Straight has accumulated in his life. But at no point does the movie become sentimental or silly. This is not a "old people are people too!" piece of populism. Straight's stoicism is translated into the script, which mostly hints at the lessons and makes its main character shadowed and complex. One scene, realting to WWII, gives us full access to the man, and it is all the more powerful for its uniqueness.
And even though Farnsworth pulls off one of my most favorite acting performances, it is Lynch's camera that leaves the greatest impression. Here is man used to directing in novel ways, using metaphor and technique to show us something different and challenge our ability to interpret a text (see Mulholland Drive, etc.). In The Straight Story, those same skills of telling a tale through direction are deployed. What emerges is some of the most sensuous, meaningful camera work I have ever seen. The opening shot is worth tracking this movie down all on its own. I verbally exclaimed "What a loving move. What a carress!" when I saw it again. Straight is slowed by age anddogged purpose; so too is the pace of this film which comes off as much like a painting as a movie, something to sit down in front of and contemplate.
David Lynch has so much skill. Perhaps too often those skills are applied to the weird. Here, it is applied to the human condition. The result is his finest film, and one of the greatest of the 90's.