October 18, 1999 [The Straight Story]

People love to tell their dreams:

"Last night I dreamed that there was a ghost in my basement. I open the door and peer into the dimness--and there at the bottom of the stairs the ghost slides into view and stands down there.  I can't tell if it's looking up at me--or even if it has a face.  I'm standing near a pile of small stones. I pick one up, toss it at the ghost. Nothing happens.  Then I must have hit home, because it flutters to the ground like a leaf.  But I do not feel better.  Instead, where I stand becomes as dim as the basement, and I can't tell where I am, up in the house or down below."


"I dreamed that my father and I were driving along a high mountain road in a convertible.  The mountains are grand--but the clouds are really remarkable, piled up up up in impossible bulging majesty.  As I look at them, enormous UFOs begin to emerge from their billowed depths.  At first I'm afraid; but then I find myself filled with joy."


"My children in the dream are still small, maybe four or five years old.  But they're also adults--sometimes in different parts of the dream, sometimes with the child-versions of themselves.  Eventually, I convince myself that the older versions are the parents of the younger versions.  My own parents, who are dead, are also there.  In the dream they're ill, as they were in life; and I'm filled with an anxiety that prevents me from enjoying the children-of-my-children family the dream provides."

Even though someone said somewhere that there is nothing more boring than someone else's dreams, from Eraserhead to Lost Highway--hell, even with Dune--I've watched David Lynch's dreams with such horror and joy that they've almost become my own.

The problem is that, until now with The Straight Story, they have all become nightmares.  But Lynch has not stopped dreaming; in fact, The Straight Story feels like the dream he has always been telling, the dream that until now has always turned its face to the basement, trudged down there to be left alone--or has it? Isn't there an infinity waiting at the end of so many of his pictures?  Doesn't even Eraserhead find apotheosis? Don't the robins arrive at the end of Blue Velvet? (Well, at least one, as mechanical and carnivorous as it might be.) And isn't even poor Laura Palmer forgiven for all her foolishness--and doesn't she change us as we see fire walking with her, our anguished pity unstoppable as a child's tears of terror and relief on awaking from a bad dream?

And The Straight Story is such a dream: sad and waiting, with a feeling that change is inevitable--and that dream-changes are not so much magical as they are built, with hands like Alvin's gripping that lawnmower up and down the hills, across the Mississippi and up the coulee to let the movie end--as so many Lynch dreams do--where it began: in stars--even more of them, I think, the two brothers on the verge of reconciliation in daylight, the camera returning to outer space to prepare the boyhood show for them.

And as Alvin journeys on his lawnmower through the Midwest--in probably the best movie about the middle of the country--doesn't he find opportunities to share joy and sorrow, to change those he meets, to change himself into a man not falling apart but a kind of journeying hero--Odysseus without the false pride, an old cowboy whose horse may be laughable--but it's the best he can get, helping him along--just as others help him?  The Straight Story dreams of a life in which every touch binds, and where a beautiful web--no: net--gathers everyone on the lost highway for a road picture that promises that love is strength and has a purpose.


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