It's hard to explain why I found David Lynch's new film so affecting: like the films of Terrence Malick, it works at the level of poetry, where the combination of sound (in this case, Angelo Badalamenti's hypnotic country-flecked score) and visuals (Iowa will never look better) combine to form an emotional landscape that's hard to put into words. As old codger Alvin Straight, who decides to visit his ailing brother in Wisconsin before his own quickly approaching death, Richard Farnsworth has moral authority etched into every line of his face. As he goes through his journey and explains his oddball mission to the people he meets on the road, the film's mythic structure unfolds. It's simple and direct, and the cumulative emotional impact is staggering. Each of his encounters is a symbolic meeting with the various stages of himself, from birth (a pregnant teenage runaway he befriends) to death (his chat with a priest in a cemetery). And unlike Forrest Gump's holy fool ramblings, which The Straight Story's Alvin has been unfairly compared with, you can see that Alvin deeply understands his own advice. Lynch's direction has never been more assured; while there are some trademark Lynchianisms throughout, they never overwhelm the film and help it give it a sharpness in texture and a welcome humor.
Exactly what is Sissy Spacek doing in here? As Alvin's retarded daughter, she speaks in a strange halting manner, spitting out words in discrete packets of information. It works, but why the affection?