Sunday, February 04, 2007


Movie of the week:

I have a self-propelled mulching push lawn mower. I’m pretty sure that I’m the only person in my neighborhood to use one. I proudly use it once a week to cut my grass and make my lawn all even and beautiful. However, this isn’t quite the status symbol of suburbia it used to be, since all my neighbors have riding tractor mowers. I, myself, am not allowed to have a riding lawn mower for exactly the same reason that I’m not allowed to own power tools. The logic being – the greater the power, the greater the potential for disaster.

There exists, undeniably, an irresistible allure of powered machines that appeals directly to the Y-chromosome. I find myself staring longingly, in the hardware store, at band saws, and nail guns, and power painters, and compressors – and I don’t know why. I watch my neighbors as they mow their tiny swatches of grass, striding atop huge machines, finishing in a half dozen passes – and I totally get the man-machine relationship. That’s why I can really understand the Zen of the main character in David Lynch’s, THE STRAIGHT STORY.

76 year old Alvin Straight has a dilemma. He just got word that his estranged brother, who he hasn't seen in a million tears or so, is dying, and he’d like to see him one last time. His eyes are bad and he can’t drive. There’s no on else who can drive him, plus he has no car. But he does have a riding lawn mower, and with luck, he can use it to make the 300+ miles to his brother’s house.

I suppose he could have taken a bus. But when was the last time you took a bus somewhere? It only beats walking in the sense that if it rains, you stay relatively dry. In the end, it’s still a bus. No romantic adventures ever took place on a bus. Besides, the mower will take a long time, and he has a lot of thinking to do. Also, there’s that whole man-machine thingy that I talked about above.

If you’re familiar with any of David Lynch’s other work (Twin Peaks, Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Dr.), you might be thinking that perhaps Alvin Straight drives off into the countryside and into the Twilight Zone, but no. That doesn’t happen. It’s not that kind of movie. The arc of this film never deviates and is without twists or kinks. It’s perfect and true just the way it is. If you think that sounds boring, then you’d be wrong. It’s virtually impossible to dislike. And, it's based on a true story.

A half-blind old man, traveling through the countryside on his John Deere lawn mower, sleeping under the stars, and getting with nature, there nothing more Zen than that – a perfect road movie. It’s like a combination of Kerouac, Motorcycle Diaries (except with a lawn mower), Ulysses (except for all that sailin’), Natural Born Killers (except for all that killin’), Kung Fu (except for all that fightin’), and maybe Anne of Green Gables (except for the fact that this is not about a girl at all, it’s about an old man who rides off on his John Deere mower on a journey of self-discovery and to reconnect to a long lost brother, one last time).

THE STRAIGHT STORY ranks #217 on the IMDB top 250, between Rosemary's Baby and Arsenic and Old Lace. In addition, it scores a 95% on the tomatometer. Film critic, Roger Ebert, had much to say about this epic odyssey through Middle America in his review of THE STRAIGHT STORY. Check it out.

Just in case, after reading my essay above, you’re considering getting me a present (my birthday is coming up), here is a list of power tools I’m not allowed to own.

  1. table saws
  2. any other kind of saw
  3. actually, anything that has to do with cutting
  4. nail guns
  5. anything else with a point
  6. chain saws – especially chain saws!
  7. tractors
  8. ladders – I know it’s not a power tool, but the potential danger is obvious
  9. cordless drills – I actually bought one of these, and I haven’t accidentally drilled any holes in myself yet. Although I did manage to drop it on my toe once, and ended up limping for a week or so.
  10. propane torch – again, not a power tool, but fire is fire! And as Frankenstein-films once said, “Fire – bad!”



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