The Straight Story
is a 1999
film directed by David Lynch
. It is based on the true story of Alvin Straight
's journey across Iowa
on a lawnmower
. The film was edited and produced by Mary Sweeney
, Lynch's longtime partner and co-worker. She co-wrote the script with John E. Roach
The title of the film is a double entendre: it refers to Alvin's surname, but also refers to the story's seemingly straightforward nature, as compared to the complex, interweaving, mysterious plots of Lynch's other films.
) is an elderly World War II
veteran who lives with his daughter Rose (Sissy Spacek
), a kind woman with a mental disability. When he hears that his estranged brother Lyle (Harry Dean Stanton
) has suffered a stroke, he makes up his mind to go visit him and hopefully make amends before he dies. But because Alvin's legs and eyes are too impaired for him to receive a license, he hitches a trailer to his recently purchased thirty year-old John Deere Lawn tractor
and sets off on the 240-mile journey from Laurens, Iowa
to Mount Zion
The film thus follows the story of Alvin's six-week journey across rural America, the people he meets, his impact on their lives, and theirs on his. It has been called a modern odyssey of a man dealing with his own mortality and mistakes and the lasting bonds of family.
The Straight Story
was independently shot along the actual route taken by Alvin Straight, and all scenes were shot in chronological order. An effect of this can be seen in the fact that there are no chapter markers on the DVD release, as David Lynch wanted the film to be watched as a whole.
Unlike his prior films (or any that would follow), "The Straight Story" was distributed by Walt Disney Pictures after a successful debut at Cannes, was given a "G" rating by the MPAA, and is the only film that Lynch did not write (although it was co-written by his recurring associate, Mary Sweeney).
Richard Farnsworth was terminally ill with bone cancer during the shooting of the film, which had caused the paralysis of his legs as shown in the film. He actually took the role out of admiration for Alvin Straight, and astonished his co-workers with his veracity during production. Because of the pain of his disease, Farnsworth committed suicide the following year, aged 80, at his home with a pistol.
The Straight Story
was generally praised, with critics lauding Lynch's uncharacteristic subject matter. It currently holds a 95% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes
and an 8.0 rating on IMDB
Awards and nominations
The Straight Story was the recipient of twelve awards and twenty-nine nominations.
In 1999 David Lynch was nominated for the Golden Palm and Freddie Francis was nominated for the golden frog. Richard Farnsworth earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his portrayal of Alvin Straight, the oldest person ever to be nominated for a Best Actor Oscar.
Comparison with David Lynch's other works
- The film features various "trademarks" which recur through many of Lynch's works. This includes the close-up image of a street moving past the camera, facial disfigurement, several allusions to coffee, lumber, fire, cigarette smoking and lightning, as well as a sense for small-town, rural life reminiscent of the positive aspects within other works such as Twin Peaks.
- The beginning of this film parallels Lynch's Blue Velvet to an extent: both films begin with an elderly man collapsing at home on a sunny day in a nice, quiet town and remaining unnoticed by his family for some time before being sent to the hospital.
- The ending of this film also parallels Lynch's The Elephant Man to another extent: both films end with starlit sky vision. Both explore the fundamental dilemma of identifying what constitutes a human and shapes one's possibilities.
- Harry Dean Stanton and Everett McGill are frequently cast in Lynch's films.
- Additionally, this is the third time McGill plays a mild-mannered, good-hearted mechanic (the first and second being his role as Big Ed in Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.)
- Sissy Spacek, who has a role as Straight's daughter, previously worked with Lynch by holding the slate between takes in the set of Eraserhead, in a favor to her future husband Jack Fisk, who starred in the same movie and produced this one.