Yesterday I watched The Straight Story, a film given me by my brother for Christmas. It is not a new film (1999), but I had not seen it before. It is an unlikely film (directed by David Lynch and distributed by Walt Disney) based-on the unlikely true story of Alvin Straight who, in 1994 and aged 73, his eyesight too poor to hold a driving licence and disliking travelling as a passenger, rode 240 miles on a sit-on lawnmower to visit his estranged brother, having heard the news that his brother had suffered a stroke. At a top speed of five miles an hour, and with various mishaps along the way, the journey took six weeks.
If you like your movies larger-than-life, this will not be the film for you. There is drama, and humour, but it is very gentle. Very slow. Nothing much happens, other than the common-or-garden you-won’t-believe-what-so-and-so-has-gone-and-done of any-town, anywhere.
It is a film about making peace, with oneself and with those whom it matters most to make one’s peace with before it is too late.
A film about the ways in which we rebuild our lives to accommodate those events we cannot change; and the consequences, good and ill, of our coping mechanisms.
A film about the redemption and transformation – for and in us, for and in others – made possible by telling our stories.
A film about making those changes we can, and the power of both repentance (the decision to change) and penance (the desire to make amends, often through symbolic action as well as practical action).
It is a film about neighbourliness, and the willingness to trust those we know and love, and those who are a stranger to us.
A film about generosity and hospitality; sending out, and inviting in.
A film about the gift of the present moment, to disrupt the flow from past to future in surprising and joyful, life-giving, ways.
A film that explores the limits of what we are able to receive from others; the limits of our interior landscape (Alvin is stubborn and proud, but a good man. He brings an end to his stubbornness and swallows his pride in order to repair relationship with his brother; but, being stubborn and proud, must negotiate limits on the help he is willing to receive, which is less than that he is willing to offer).
It is a film about the complex, wonderful beauty that is a human being – every human being – made in the image of God and deeply loved, for all its flaws.
It is a film about aging, all the more poignant because the lead actor, Richard Farnsworth in his final (and Oscar-nominated) film role, was living with terminal cancer at the time (the following year, he took his own life before the cancer took it from him).
It is a film, from a time that is perhaps now past, or passing, for our times. Before it is too late.