At first, the 1999 film The Straight Story seems like a strange outlier in director David Lynch’s strange oeuvre. Not only is it a G-rated Disney movie, but it’s also the only film he made from a screenplay he did not at least co-write. It is a deeply wholesome film, without even a hint of the malicious dread that marks his other work. Crane shots of a small town square capture dogs playing together in the street, with no one-armed men interrupting to rant about missing magic rings. A shot of a sprinkler cuts only to a lonely mother watching a boy play with a ball, and never pans down to grubs writhing in the loam. No doppelgängers appear, no faces contort. Even the low hum of a grain elevator brings comfort instead of fear.
But when the opening shot of a starry sky dissolves to a montage of cornfields and small-town vistas, all set to an aching Angelo Badalamenti score, the title card feels extraneous. We know we’re watching a film by David Lynch. These scenes capture the deep emotion that drew Lynch to the screenplay that his longtime editor Mary Sweeney wrote with John Roach. The same type of emotion he puts in all of his work, whether it be the destructive freedom of Wild at Heart or the terror of Inland Empire.
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