The Straight Story, which is modeled after real life, is a simple movie with a big heart. The most outstanding feature is the acting of Richard Farnsworth who was in the final stages of terminal bone cancer and in considerable pain during filming. The movie is directed by David Lynch, who is known for his highly surreal work, such as Eraserhead and Blue Velvet, so it comes as a surprise that this talented man would be able to pull off such an emotional and compassionate picture.
Nonetheless, he does so with integrity staying true to his own personal touches and obsessions. Although this movie is produced by Disney, Lynch is not a "sell-out" but keeps certain bizarre touches, such as the twin mechanics or the hysteric deer-killing woman driver in addition to experiments regarding sound and visuals. At the same time, the movie explores a range of existential themes, some of which are discussed below.
On the Kindness of Strangers
The Straight Story is a road movie mainly, but with a bizarre twist. It runs as slow as the John Deer lawn-mover, but it is both beautiful and poetic at the same time. The success of Alvin Straight's undertaking is mostly made possible by the kind folk that surround him. On his trip he runs into different types of people, but all of them contribute in their own way to support this stubborn man on his personal mission.
In fact, Straight runs into many problems, but he can always count on the kindness of strangers. These people are often simple townsfolk who wish him best. They may have their flaws, but heir heart is in the right place. They immediately like and have compassion for this elderly man who wants to see his estranged brother.
Richard Farnsworth's face emits and glows with patience, understanding and an unspeakable deep humanity. His simple phrases in the movie astonish all, young and old, because of their lived and timeless wisdom. And this brings about the desire to help this man a little along the way because, in fact, in his own way, he gives so much back in return.
The main theme of the movie is undoubtedly the importance of family. Straight himself decides to bury old strife and to see his ailing brother perhaps one last time. He explains in poetic phrases that, after all, a “brother is a brother” and that a family is strong because it is a bundle of individual sticks that, once combined, is hard to break.
One should hold onto the other and let bygones be bygones because life is short. These phrases may sound trivial, but they are expressed with emotion and reveal deep truths about existence, particularly in the context of this story.
The Invincible Human Spirit
Straight never gives up on his journey. He has the no-matter-what attitude to do it his way. He is as stubborn and pigheaded as they come. In his manner, his unfailing and unflinching attitude is the emblem of the invincible human spirit. He knows what he wants and will do anything to achieve his goal.
In the characters of this movie, we may see certain failings, even Alvin Straight is not a perfect being, but we see that these people are all inherently good. When it comes down to it, they are compassionate and caring. And they are willing to stand up and fight for their ideals, be it trivial or of great importance.
All in all, I highly recommend this movie for those who have the time and patience to see stories unfold at their own pace. There are simply a wide range of wonderful bits. One of the most touching scenes occurs in the bar where two veterans talk about their previous guilt-ridden war experiences. It gives the characters additional depth and dimension and makes a brief, yet cogent, statement on the futility of war.
The movie also becomes even more moving because of the eventual fate of its Oscar nominee. Richard Farnsworth himself in real life decided to end his life because he could not stand the pain anymore. He has, however, left us a wonderful piece of art as his legacy that would also make the real Alvin Straight proud.