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My Own Private Idaho

My Own Private Idaho (1991)

September. 29,1991
| Drama

In this loose adaptation of Shakespeare's "Henry IV," Mike Waters is a hustler afflicted with narcolepsy. Scott Favor is the rebellious son of a mayor. Together, the two travel from Portland, Oregon to Idaho and finally to the coast of Italy in a quest to find Mike's estranged mother. Along the way they turn tricks for money and drugs, eventually attracting the attention of a wealthy benefactor and sexual deviant.


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Honestly one of the worst movies I have ever seen! Really if you have something else to do you should definitely prefer it.


This movie is a perfect example of the importance that a director has on a film and the way the film will turn out. Gus Van Sant's erratic, hilarious and creative storytelling of a gay narcoleptic hustler is one of a kind in the sense that you rarely witness a story being explored in such a unique way. It is important to note that the narcolepsy our protagonist experiences, together with a short-lived childhood and rough situations lead him to a scattered, direction-less existence. This is portrayed incredibly well by Gus' direction and Phoenix's performance, as Mike's life is reflected by the fragmented and hazy nature of the film itself. Being narcoleptic, Mike has no chance of leading an ordinary life, as these bouts of sleep leave him powerless, in the hands of nature and others, and it is apparent that at some point he stops caring about where he will end up next or where he will be in a day, month or year. Instead, Mike's only able to live hour by hour, hustling from one guy to the next, not really sure whether a particular event has truly happened or if it is one of his many dreams. It is a strange and touching story, told in an even stranger and incredibly refreshing and original way: The magazine poster guys talking to one another, sharing thoughts on life as a hustler, sexual acts depicted through still erotic poses of the participants, and above all Bob, a character who is both a pathetic, fat thief and a spiritual, guiding poet. The kids: One of the most entertaining aspects of this film is delving into the lives of these hustlers, listening as they share their traumatic experiences with a sincere honesty and optimism, watching as they celebrate the life of their teacher and friend, Bob the Poet, by yelling and jumping and going wild; these kids were full of life. Mike: Michael's character is potentially the most vulnerable character I have seen on film; this person has no choice but to surrender to the hands of whoever happens to pass by as he goes through life in a state between reality and dreaming, never truly aware of where he is or when he wakes up. It is incredible to see Phoenix portray this complex character, one who does not seem to have any direction in life but one who longs for some kind of intimacy with someone, a highly ironic take on the fact that he supports himself by sharing intimate physical moments with strangers. Mike is often found talking to himself, lost inside his own head. He sees clips of himself with his mom dancing and visualizes these isolated wooden houses when he goes under. He has a deep urge to find his mom and with the help of his best friend he tries to locate her, finding himself falling in love with this guy and getting his heart broken when the guy falls in love with another girl instead. To see a guy that does not confide much about himself be so exposed and so vulnerable and express his love for this guy in such a fundamentally human way, to see him try to hug the person that is trying to undress him, longing for some kind of true intimacy with a human being; these little peaks into the soul of this kid that is most often seen lost in his drug-influenced mind are what make this film so immensely beautiful. One should not fail to mention the humor of this film, with scenes like the prank on Bob and the other thieves, Hans performing his outrageously bad one man show while holding a lamp. These scenes play an important part in the film as they give realism to the story, instead of the director and screenwriter opting to dramatize the already-dramatic lives of these young adults. It also shows the spirit of these kids, a spirit indestructible that manages to laugh at times like this and not take itself too seriously. Idaho signifies a special place for our character, a place he returns to every time he falls asleep, and a place where his fondest earliest memories exist. It is also the place where he'd shared a road trip with his best friend and where he'd confided his love for him. This road will never end, our character says, signifying both the endlessness of his situation as a narcoleptic hustler and on the other hand a sense of safety in this familiar road, and this is depicted in the very last scene of the movie, where Mike gets picked up by a stranger or possibly his close friend after being robbed by 2 others.


It really doesn't seem 25 years ago that I first wondered at this beautiful piece of cinema. Time has been kind to it. It's even more impressive now. Its Shakespearean element seems to lift it out of a particular era, turning it into the stuff classics are made of.It is poetic, idiosyncratic work, simultaneously cool/objective and passionate/subjective, a remarkable achievement. The famous campfire scene between River Phoenix's Mike and Keanu Reeves' Scott is heartrending. The powerful confrontation between Phoenix and James Russo as Mike's brother is equally memorable. The high passions running in both section are counterpointed by the inscrutability of Reeves'face. His charisma has never been put to better use.On this second viewing, I was struck by Beatrix Aruna Pasztor's superb costume designs. They help create the film's air of timelessness.My feeling is that this movie will continue to be held, rightly, in very high esteem for a long, long time to come.


I had heard of this movie for a while now (since it came out I guess) and never had the chance to watch it. Finally, I got my hand on a DVD and was stunned: how could I have missed this before? I would classify this movie in the Indie genre (if that applied to movies), as its style is unusual. Essentially, the dialogs may go into long theatrical speech (literally) rather than a fluent every day life dialog. You get annoyed at times (did not expect a Shakespeare play but a movie) as some of the scenes within this style are not working out (imagine Keanu Reeves in a play - nope! doesn't work for me either). But if you can pass beyond this problem, you will find a gem. Indeed, the characters! What a treat. River Phoenix (Mike) performance is simply breathtaking and inspired: you immediately feel the character of "Mike", the abandoned and confused child not only reverting to hustling for money but striving for belonging, acceptance and love going in life with the dream and memory of his mother. His friendship with Scott (Keanu Reeves) will bring them into a journey where emotions and classics are all covered: lightness and energy of youth, rebellion of the privileged, loneliness, burning passions, struggles and survival, loss, desire. On second thought, perhaps it works well as a Shakespearian play (yes, I know it was intended) but not only because the dialogs are like so but due to the in-depth drama of this movie the breadth of emotion it covers. The story line is flooded with the view of Mike (also narcoleptic) and appears at times as a dream. As a result, to me, the whole movie is simply a great piece, poetic, breath taking and emotional: you stay watching through the theater scenes wanting to know what's next, you get hooked to the artistic aspects of the movie (music is often blending and you find yourself noticing that many details have significance) and you feel for the characters at a deep and intense level as if the topics treated are archetypal. For sure, you will remember this movie whether you were thrown off by it, liked it or loved it.