akira’s review published on Letterboxd:
“If I had a normal family and a good upbringing, then I would have been a well-adjusted person.”
My Own Private Idaho is easily one of my favorite films of all time and one of the most special pieces of cinema I’ve ever come across. Let’s start with the performances, particularly River Phoenix who in my opinion gives the best performance of his short but exciting career. The emotional vulnerability and maturity he displays in the film is so utterly raw and unapologetic I can’t help but think what a truly incredible career he would’ve had if he had still been alive. He was only 20 years old when he filmed My Own Private Idaho and already presented such an ability to emote and act in a way that didn’t feel like we as the audience are watching someone act but we’re simply witnessing a character at a genuinely distressful period in their life. River was a seriously special person and for me this film was his absolute peak.
Keanu Reeves also gives one of the best performances I’ve seen from him and I personally love the relationship between his character Scott and Mike. They have a really fun and quirky dynamic between them but a clear respect and admiration for each other under the surface that becomes quite evident in certain scenes throughout the film. The campfire scene for instance is honestly one of my favorite scenes of all time and really shows how much Scott and Mike deeply care about each other even though Scott is straight and Mike realizes he’ll never love him the way he loves Scott. “I could love someone even if I wasn’t paid for it. I love you and you don’t pay me...” That line is so powerful in the sense that Mike is a hustler and is so used to getting paid for sex with men, women, and strangers that his idea of love is completely warped and he almost doesn’t even know what’s real anymore. But the one real thing that he’s sure of is his love for Scott. Scott was essentially the only real thing Mike had in the movie as he had no family (besides his temperamental brother who may or not be his father), no real friends, no real home, just his relationship with Scott and their ability to make every situation an adventure. Which makes it all the more devastating in the third act when Scott leaves Mike for a woman he just met and inherits his fortune and his father’s legacy, becoming the man he always told everyone he would when he turned 21. Even though I adore the relationship between Mike and Scott, I honestly see them as one person, two sides of the same coin. I look at the film itself as a dream and it could be a projection of Mike’s subconscious as he grows into adulthood and attempts to adapt to the life he’s been given while struggling with the part of himself that he can’t let go of, that childlike innocence and naivety that we all struggle to hold on to as we age out of that chapter of our lives.
I love Gus Van Sant’s style and this is easily his magnum opus in my opinion. His use of dream logic makes perfect sense given the fact that Mike has narcolepsy and is constantly falling asleep in strange places. Van Sant’s visual flair and use of cutting to a new scene with no explanation only adds to the strange and unique experience of the film. Every time I watch it I honestly can’t believe David Lynch didn’t make this movie, it reminds me so much of Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway with that lynchian quality of using dreams as a way to explore a person’s subconscious desires and fears. The movie as a whole is about home and love, the two things we need the most as humans and when we don’t possess those things in their true form we’re simply lost in this world, ghosts just trying to survive day to day and maintain our sanity as best as we can. Where does Mike end up at the very end of the film when he’s left with literally nothing and nobody in his life? Exactly where he started at the beginning of the film, on that road in Idaho that never ends.