Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth) has suffered a setback. An elderly man in his seventies, his health is beginning to fail after decades of smoking and a drinking problem he managed to put behind him, but simple wear and tear on his ageing frame is taking its toll, and after a fall at home where he could not get up again, his doctor warns him in no uncertain terms that he will have to change his ways or risk an impending death. But he feels he has too many years on him to change now, so rejects the doctor's advice, though knowing the clock is ticking brings his experiences into sharper relief. None sharper than the relationship he has with his brother Lyle, whom he has not spoken to in ten years...
This was based on a true story of Mr Straight who made the headlines across the world by travelling to see his brother, who was also ailing, on a lawnmower. Not like a hover mower or something you have to push, but one you sat on and drove, all thanks to him not having a driver's licence so he did not own a car to take him the few hundred miles from Wisconsin to Ohio that he needed to make amends with his sibling. You could regard this as a note of caution about realising your time on this Earth was finite, and leaving loose ends that could easily have been remedied with a heart to heart, or even a gesture to acknowledge that things were said, but nothing that could never be taken back, was not the best way to take your final bow.
The entire journey Alvin embarks on here is a metaphor for his seventy-six years, condensed into a couple of months that he spent on the road, with each person he meets representing something that happened to him which was of significance. It seems each of them reminds him of a passage of time in his long life, with the teenage runaway reminding him of his wife and the children she bore him, or the equally elderly gent he meets when the transport breaks down who he reminisces with about their harrowing Second World War, the first time we can tell he has done so in a very long time. Sissy Spacek played Rose, his daughter who still lives with him since she has mental difficulties, and has now started to turn carer for the old man.
He has to leave her behind for his trip, but there was a sense these simple folk were not being patronised, rather that director David Lynch was revelling in the places and atmosphere where he grew up, with their hopes and fears and even their humour, but above all their uncomplicated generosity: this was a film that had great faith in human nature. You could argue that some of the most moving scenes in his canon shared that belief that people were essentially decent, and if they were not there was nothing about them that the decent folks would ever be fundamentally corrupted by, but The Straight Story was a movie without any real villains, it was a matter of reconciliation as the characters could be their own worst enemies, as we see most patently in Alvin, who is not wholly endorsed in his endeavours.
Plenty of others tell him he is simply being foolish in pursuing this, and we can well understand why, especially when he nearly suffers an accident or winds up stranded with nobody around to rescue him. Yet if Alvin was not a sensible man but a stubborn one, we can also see that this act he is undertaking is a method of proving his need to be forgiven by his brother, a form of penance no matter that he quite enjoys being out on the road, but for a man in his condition, needing two canes to walk, his lungs giving up and his eyesight failing, it's not exactly a walk in the park either (or a lawnmower ride in the park, if you prefer). In its quiet manner, with its glowing Freddie Francis photography this looked back to those great road movies of the seventies which supplanted the Western in some ways, though while those worried that the traditional American values were either waning away or hardly existed in the first place, Lynch sought to reassure us that basic goodness survived, and you would find it should you take on an excursion that did not need to be as Herculean as Alvin's. The final sequence was genuinely moving. Music by Angelo Badalamenti.
One-of-a-kind American writer-director and artist. His low budget debut Eraserhead set the trends for his work: surreal, unnerving but with a unique sense of humour. After Mel Brooks offered him The Elephant Man, Dino De Laurentiis gave Lynch Dune to direct, but it was an unhappy experience for him.
Luckily, despite the failure of Dune, De Laurentiis was prepared to produce Lynch's script for Blue Velvet, which has since become regarded as a classic. He moved into television with Twin Peaks and On the Air, but it was with film that he was most comfortable: Cannes winner Wild at Heart, prequel/sequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, plot-twisting Lost Highway, the out of character but sweet-natured The Straight Story, the mysterious Mulholland Drive and the rambling, willfully obscure Inland Empire.