Danny: "Even if you get that mower running again, it might still break down."
Alvin: "Well you're a kind man talking to a stubborn man. I still wanna finish this the way I started."
Well that's the only way I can describe the outset of this U-rated Disney movie directed by David Lynch. It just doesn't matter how innocent everything may appear on the surface of this old-fashioned American community, the cocktail of Lynch's pondering direction and Angelo Badalamenti's sad atmospheres still convince you that something very unpleasant indeed must surely be occurring just off-camera.
And... they're right! Oh, wait a minute, if they actually are right then that jokey exclamation mark won't be appropriate. And they're right. When lead character Alvin Straight's phone rings, off camera you can just make out his daughter answering and learning that his brother has just suffered a stroke. Ooh. Oh. Ah. No, that's not fun at all.
In fact, despite the family-friendly certificate, you have to wonder just how much Lynch deliberately slipped in under the censors' radar here. Alvin smokes throughout. He also accidentally murdered someone years ago, of which he has never spoken. His daughter? Man's inhumanity to man has pronounced an appalling sentence upon her too. And there's more...
Somehow though, this is a film in which David Lynch effortlessly soars over what may be expected of him, and proves without hesitation just what a fine director he really is. He doesn't talk down to his audience at all, having 100% confidence in us to stay with the slow narrative, and take on board every development at his intelligent level.
He coaxes utterly believable performances out of his cast, and captures them in all their tiny detail.
Alvin's big flashback to World War II is captivating, made all the more so by the length of this unbroken take. I don't know quite how long this monologue went on for - I was just too lost in the visuals that the performance was conjuring up in my own imagination.
That largo pace works both ways however. Often when an event does happen here, it then turns out to amount to nothing, just like in real life. The number of times that Alvin's lawnmower breaks down, only for it to get fixed again, is impressively high for a film.
If you're looking for an intelligent reflection on mortality, then this film should definitely be on your list.
And it's a prudent heads-up to offer the younger generation at the outset of their journey through life too.
Alvin Straight: "You don't think about getting old when you're young... you shouldn't."
Cyclist #1: "Must be something good about gettin' old?"
Alvin Straight: "Well I can't imagine anything good about being blind and lame at the same time but, still at my age I've seen about all that life has to dish out. I know to separate the wheat from the chaff, and let the small stuff fall away."
Cyclist #2: "So, uh, what's the worst part about being old, Alvin?"
Alvin Straight: "Well, the worst part of being old is rememberin' when you was young."