“The Straight Story”
The Straight Story was a slow yet unique film. The most entertaining characteristic of this Paul Thomas Anderson film is the message is hidden well. It took weeks after watching this movie to realize two stories were being told in this single film. First, there is a 'surface' story of the protagonist Alan Straight's journey across the country to see his dying brother. Underneath that story is a discreet biography of Alan Stright.
The film introduces you to the dying older man, Alan, and the story follows the entire movie. Despite Alan's health, he smokes cigars and eats hotdogs, which indicates he has little concern for his health. His lack of consideration for his health as an older man initially confused me.
Another aspect of Alan that confused me was that he refused help for his long trip and decided to take on a lawnmower. At first, he is taking his lawnmower on this long journey out of necessity. As other people see Alan struggling to get where he is trying to get on this little machine, they offer to help. Alan refuses. His refusal to accept help was also confusing to me at first.
As Alan encounters people, it becomes clearer how this trip reflects important moments of Alan's life. For example, the first person Alan runs into is a young pregnant girl. He explains to her the importance of family.
Alan's message to this young pregnant girl shows that he probably didn't understand the importance of family earlier in his life. For example, it becomes apparent that Alan did not take the advice he is giving once in his life. His former ignorance becomes apparent when Alan cites how he used to tell his sons about a "bundle of sticks" trick.
Later, Alan bumps into a woman who hits some deer. The message the author is trying to send with this encounter is still unclear to me, but it has to do with his kids. Alan has a thirteen and a seven-year-old. It is unclear if these children are from the same relationship or not. I also got the impression he may have lost some kids to miscarriages or abortions. What is clear is that the deer are looking at him after their deaths because he sees them staring at him from behind as he eats one.
Alan also encounters a group of bikers in the film. These men are younger and more muscular than Alan. Alan appears to be reflecting on this comparison. He may have taken his youth for granted somehow.
There are several other encounters Alan has with some exciting people. All of this allows us, the audience, to get a peek into who Alan was and is.
The most exciting scene is when Alan takes a trip down a hill. This moment seems to connect to Alan's past as an alcoholic. But, it also may be a link to his lost grandkids. Another revealing scene is when Alan has a conversation with a priest that gives us insight into his emotional reaction to death and repentance. Later, Alan meets a war veteran in a bar, and it clicks for me then that Alan is on a journey of atonement. Alan tells the veteran a story that shows how flawed Alan once was.
From there, the story becomes more enjoyable. Once you understand the purpose behind Alan's actions, your attention can now focus on what he will do next. In the end, I was left satisfied with Alan's journey. It was long, confusing, and redundant at times, but once it was over, I was happy.