Monday, May 12, 2003

The Movie I Watched Last Night LXVII

While my mother was in town for Mother's Day and Kurt and Geraldine's wedding, we watched a couple of movies on the Big Blue Couch at Church Corner:

Friday: The Straight Story
Based on a true story, this 1999 David Lynch film produced by Disney tells the tale of a 73-year-old man who embarks on a six-week journey from Iowa to Wisconsin on a riding lawn mower. It's a slow-paced, gentle movie that's quite different than Lynch's usually dark narratives, and its emotional weight and importance is impressive. Richard Farnsworth's portrayal of Alvin Straight, the aged hero of the film, is solid, as is Sissy Spacek's role as Straight's developmentally disabled daughter. For the most part, the movie is a linear hero's quest, and the story unfolds through vignettes as Straight encounters various characters along the way: a pregnant runaway, a helpful family, and eventually, the brother for whom he set out on his journey. The Straight Story is a story about family ties, honor, perseverence, and redemption -- as well as about pride and love. While I expected more of an emotional resolution or apology at the end, when Straight is reunited with his brother (portrayed by Harry Dean Stanton), the quietly accepting conclusion is impact enough. A sleeper, but substantial.

Saturday: Night on the Galactic Railroad
Admittedly, I picked up this 1985 anime directed by Gisaburo Sugii mistaking it for A Chinese Ghost Story. But the confusion was not regretted. Based on a 1927 story by Kenji Miyazawa, the anime is a modern fable about two friends who embark on a quest for self-realization and -understanding on a mysterious train that takes them to various stations. Along the way, the youths encounter various characters and scenes that contribute to their moral and philsophical learning and development. Although the anime is quite beautiful -- and the soundtrack appropriate for the film's dark mystery -- the pace is somewhat slow. Regardless, by building the young heroes' emotional and social development on a quest for one's father and independence, Sugii communicates many of Kenji's ideas and ideals to good effect. In fact, this is an interesting parallel watch to The Straight Story because both portray linear quests for understanding. When the end arrived, I was slightly surprised and dismayed by the anime's initially dissatisfying conclusion, but then another aspect of the story was introduced, and it wrapped up quite nicely. Despite an overly Western and Christian philosophical leaning for a Japanese fable, the film's animation and soundtrack is luch and impressive, and the overall effect is one of care and growing confidence.

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