Making the Grades
David Lynch is best known for bizarre and dark stories (like Eraserhead and Twin Peaks). After so many twisted themes, perhaps Lynch yearned for something a little more... straight.
The true story of Alvin Straight (played by Richard Farnsworth) begins the night he receives word of his brother's stroke. Suddenly Alvin is determined to break the ten-year silence between them. Yet health problems prohibit him from holding a driver's license, and his mentally challenged daughter Rose (Sissy Spacek) is unable to take him.
So Alvin decides to use the one piece of transportation he has -- his ride-on lawnmower. With a home built trailer hitched to the back, Alvin begins a journey that takes us not only into the landscape of the rural Midwest, but more importantly demonstrates the strength of the human family when people care for one another.
In an understated performance that was brushed over by Academy potentates, Farnsworth's character is a man of few words, but he brings sensitivity and complexity to every one. Even more compelling are his actions and the very nature of his face, especially in one of the most dialogue heavy scenes of the film when he recalls a painful incident from the war with a newfound friend. Watching this 79-year-old actor, a former stuntman, who came out of retirement for this role, reminded me how the pure craft of acting is too often lost in digital effects and surround sound.
Although the plot moves as slowly as Alvin's lawnmower, The Straight Story is a peaceful film that allows its audience time to reflect. As Alvin meets others along his journey, he leaves them with a little bit of the wisdom he has acquired over his long hard life.
Alvin lives with a lot of regrets. We discover he has to resolve the situation with his brother, that he still pains over incidents from the war, and that he knows he should throw away his cigars. But this isn't a story about becoming perfect. Instead it's a tale about setting your life straight -- before it's too late.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Straight Story.
At first, people see Alvin as an odd curiosity. Why, after they meet him, do they find him so endearing? Do we see elderly people as a benefit to our society? As a family, you may want to think of ways you can help your elderly relatives or friends feel like they are still needed in our world.