adam’s review published on Letterboxd:
-Interesting rig you got out there. Make it up the hill OK?
-That one and about 200 others.
! SPOILERS AHEAD !
watch before you read unless you don't care
The Straight Story is an impeccably well written and well executed movie about an old man coming to terms with his life as the Reaper gets ever closer. A tottering old man departs upon a heap of junk lawnmower to travel on a weeks long journey to visit his sick brother who he has not spoken to in over a decade.
Near the onset of his trek, a youthful cyclist asks our traveler what the worst thing about being old is, to which our friend responds:
-The worst thing about being old is remembering when you were young.
Our traveler, Alvin Straight, is incredibly stubborn, even to his own admission. There are many ways that he could travel the road to get to his brother but he refuses all of them and instead opts for one of the least efficient ways possible: a riding mower. Even when his steed breaks down, he's offered a direct ride by a local passerby which he refuses. The writing and performance make it abundantly clear that nothing's gonna stop Alvin from doing things his way even if it's arduous. During the day, Alvin mows through the difficulties that a travel-by-lawnmower would bring and at night he often retells the stories of his youth with locals and other fellow travelers. Remembering his youth is, by his own admission, the worst part about being old and yet Alvin does it anyway, time and time again. Even his eventual goal of reuniting with his brother is going to be difficult. Not just because they haven't spoken for over a decade, but because Alvin's brother is Alvin's youth. They grew up together so closely that a large part of their lives are effectively identical. Alvin's journey to confront is brother is also Alvin reconnecting with his youth, maybe for the last time.
Each stop of Alvin's journey is tied to a significant instance in his past. I don't want to write out the full implications behind each of these so, like a bad writer, I trust you to use your big brain and connect all the dots. Here's a bulleted list:
-Alvin meets a young pregnant woman who reminds him of his daughter and the importance of family.
-A woman who crashes her car into 13 deer in half as many weeks on her daily commute, ruining her means of transportation and causing general difficulty (and she loves deer!).
-Alvin loses control of his lawnmower driving down a steep hill as he notices the a house on fire, reminiscent of the house fire that led to the death of a grandchild and the sadness bestowed upon his daughter as CPS took away her other children.
-A pair of bickering twin brothers repair his mower, reminding Alvin of his relationship with his own brother.
-Alvin exchanges incredibly difficult and painful memories about the war with another veteran, specifically noting about how the faces of their friends were never allowed to age past youth.
-Alvin speaks to a pastor next to a cemetery about the final goals of his roadtrip.
-Alvin drinks a beer, something he hasn't had for an unspecified number of years, just before finally arriving at his brother's home.
Every step of the way, Alvin must meet the difficulties of his past and pair them with the difficulties of the present by recalling his youth. He's lived a long time, traveled a long journey. But he's always pushed on. How many hills has he made it up over? At least 200, and he'll keep pushing that steady mower on forward past more to come. This movie is damn masterful