My Own Private Idaho

  • Directed by Gus Van Sant
  • United States, 1991, 105 mins., English

Drawing upon the inherent “road movie” qualities of Prince Hal and Falstaff’s adventures in Henry IV, indie auteur Gus Van Sant crafted this thoughtful and affecting portrait of two hustlers in search of belonging. Rebellious, privileged Scott (Keanu Reeves) stands to inherit a fortune upon his approaching 21st birthday, while his companion Mike (River Phoenix)—a gentle, winsome prostitute who struggles with disorienting lapses into narcolepsy—yearns to find his mother. The unlikely pair makes their way from the gritty streets of early-’90s Portland to a small village in Italy, even as their divergent destinies threaten to break them apart. Depicting the lives of marginalized, alienated youth through anachronistic, quasi-Elizabethan dialogue and dreamlike escapes into Mike’s unconscious world, My Own Private Idaho is a brilliant juxtaposition between gritty realism and tender fable. “Van Sant is essentially making a human comedy here, a story that may be sad and lonely in parts but is illuminated by the insight that all experience is potentially ridiculous.”—Roger Ebert.

Genres: Drama

Other Films by Gus Van Sant

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Milk

Leading an all-star cast (Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, James Franco) in Van Sant’s intimate and meticulously researched biographical drama, Sean Penn gives an astonishingly sensitive and astute performance as political iconoclast Harvey Milk, the self-described “Mayor of Castro Street.” “Milk tells Milk’s story as one of a transformed life, a victory for individual freedom over

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Last Days

Michael Pitt portrays a hauntingly familiar figure in this meditation—dedicated to Kurt Cobain—on the final days in the life of a famed musician retreating from the clamor of the world and its myriad, insistent demands. “Success is subjective,” an earnest Yellow Pages salesman tells Blake (Pitt), as he invites him to consider how a directory

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Elephant

Winner of the Palme d ‘Or and Best Director awards at the Cannes Film Festival, Van Sant drew inspiration for his key protagonists from the real-life Columbine High School tragedy. Rather than attempting to offer easy explanations, Van Sant creates a highly stylized evocation of a day in the life of a “normal” American high

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Gerry

Filmed in the stunning deserts of northern Argentina, Utah, and Death Valley, Gerry falls into the category of minimalist road movie—trek movie, actually—as two friends (Casey Affleck and Matt Damon, both named Gerry) set off on foot in the wild in search of the elusive. Very soon they are completely lost, disoriented, and in peril.

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Drugstore Cowboy

Van Sant’s acclaimed second feature is a daring and uncompromising look at outlaw junkie life based on the novel by James Fogle. Set in Portland in the early ‘70s, Matt Dillon gives the performance of his career as Bob Hughes, the superstitious leader of an awkward band of addicts who go directly to the source