Director David Lynch is famous for pushing the envelope of weird sex and violence, but his profound ELEPHANT MAN showed that he does have the ability to create moral masterpieces. THE STRAIGHT STORY is such a masterpiece. It is a powerful, understated, beautifully-crafted, outward and visible sign of a powerful inner and spiritual truth.
This true story tells about a weathered, over 70-year-old, self-reliant man of the Great Plains named Alvin Straight, played by the incomparable Richard Farnsworth in a great movie performances. Alvin lives in Laurens, Iowa with his daughter Rose (Sissy Spacek), who has a speech impediment and is slightly retarded, though she has an exceptional memory.
After falling in his kitchen, Alvin is told by the doctor that he has emphysema and must give up smoking, along with hips that no longer work, bad eyes and many other physical ailments. Soon thereafter, he hears that his estranged brother Lyle (Harry Dean Stanton) has had a stroke. Alvin decides that he needs to visit his brother, who lives more than 360 miles away in Mt. Zion, Wisconsin. He doesn’t have a driver’s license, doesn’t have much money, and doesn’t like public transportation, so he decides to ride his lawn mower to Mt. Zion, towing a small trailer with enough supplies to survive the trip that ends up taking almost two months.
Along the way, Alvin, in an understated way, helps all those he meets understand biblical truth. He explains the importance of family to a young pregnant girl running away from home, not by lecturing her but by telling her a story. When his children were little, he tells her, he gave each a stick. Separately, each stick was easy to break, but bundled together they were unbreakable. The next morning, he finds that she has left, leaving behind a small bundle of sticks.
It is not just these encounters on the road that show forth deeper truth. It is the very journey itself which is fraught with great danger. His lawn mower runs away on a steep hill near the Mississippi. Car accidents occur around him. Thus, Alvin goes more than the extra mile to reconcile with his brother. In the process, he affirms life and forgiveness and humility triumphing over pride.
Whether or not you read about this story in the newspapers, the craftsmanship is so fine that the film is unbelievably life-like and captivating. This is a family film with mature themes like THE WINSLOW BOY. It comes from a filmmaker who has been known for quite a different body of work. It shows that God can raise up stones, or turn around hardened Hollywood hearts, to witness to Him.
Every aspect of this movie is incredible, especially the sound which is so carefully wrought. The audience is there with Alvin every mile along the way.
It is a movie that needs to be discovered like DRIVING MISS DAISY, which Warner Bros. released just in New York so that critics could find it before anyone else. It never preaches, yet it is full of values. In all, it seems like a gift of grace, in a year full of angry, perverted films.
In spite of Alvin smoking cigars, and his old buddies using the word “hell,” this is a work that will bless families. It will show brothers and sisters the importance of never letting the sun go down on their anger. It is a modern parable that deserves many awards.
Redemptive worldview about a brother reconciling with his brother with biblical illustrations & references to the Bible; two "Oh, God's," 7 "hells" & 1 other mild obscenity; no onscreen violence but frightening storms, the thud of a man collapsing in a kitchen, vivid sounds of war, & other suspenseful events illustrated only by sound; no sex; no nudity, but doctor examines a man's upper torso; some alcohol use; heavy smoking; and, consistent life-affirming morality.