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My Own Private Idaho (The Criterion Collection)

4.1 out of 5 stars 188 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves star in director Gus Van Sant’s haunting tale of two young street hustlers: Mike Waters, a sensitive narcoleptic who dreams of the mother who abandoned him, and Scott Favor, wayward son of the mayor of Portland and the object of Mike’s desire. Navigating a volatile world of junkies, thieves, and johns, Mike takes Scott on a quest from the grungy streets to the open highways of the Pacific Northwest, in search of an elusive place called "home." Groundbreaking and visually dazzling, My Own Private Idaho is a stirring look at unrequited love and life at society’s margins.

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Mapping the spaces between fortune and degeneracy, Shakespeare and street cant, Europe and the Pacific Northwest, and gay and straight, My Own Private Idaho is the 1991 masterpiece by director Gus Van Sant. River Phoenix gave the most generous and memory-searing performance of his tragically shortened career as Mike Waters, a narcoleptic street hustler in search of his mother. His best friend, Scott, played by Keanu Reeves, is a son of privilege who fosters plans of rejoining the moneyed world of his father after gallivanting with assorted urchins and ne'er-do-wells. The beautifully symmetrical story that emerges between the two is one of friendship, yearning for lost time, and sexual identity conveyed with a poet's eye for landscape. The camera lingers on abandoned houses in golden fields and time-lapse clouds, providing what T.S. Eliot called "the objective correlative"--external representations of interior emotional states. We're treated to striking iconic sequences like a barn falling from the sky and still-life scenes of carnal entanglement. The supporting cast is a rogues' gallery that includes Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Udo Kier, director William Richert, and a variety of "nonactors" pulled literally off the street to provide documentary veracity to a film that gleefully careens into riffs on Henry IV. It's beautiful.

What's also beautiful is the Criterion Collection's treatment of the film's DVD debut. The director-approved transfer successfully conveys the warmth of the film's palette of oranges and browns, and preserves the whimsical atmospherics of the yodeling country music soundtrack. Many members of the original crew contribute their fond memories to the documentary features, which include a conversation between Phoenix's sister Rain and producer Laurie Parker. There are also two lengthy audio-only conversations--one between Van Sant and Velvet Goldmine director Todd Haynes, and another between author J.T. Leroy and filmmaker Jonathan Caouette about their experiences on the street. The deleted scenes mostly suggest alternate endings that Van Sant wisely left on the cutting room floor. A superb example of a beloved film on DVD. --Ryan Boudinot

Stills from My Own Private Idaho (click for larger image)


The Cast

River Phoenix

Keanu Reeves

Keanu and River

Udo Kier

Gus Van Sant


Special Features

  • Exclusive new audio conversation between director Gus Van Sant and filmmaker Todd Haynes
  • The Making of My Own Private Idaho, a new documentary featuring interviews with key crew members
  • New video interview with film critic Paul Arthur on the adaptation of Shakespeare in My Own Private Idaho
  • Video conversation between producer Laurie Parker and Rain Phoenix
  • Outtakes
  • Original theatrical trailer

Product Details

  • Actors: River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves, James Russo, William Richert, Rodney Harvey
  • Directors: Gus Van Sant
  • Writers: Gus Van Sant, William Shakespeare
  • Producers: Allan Mindel, Anthony Brand, Laurie Parker, Solomon J. LeFlore
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, NTSC, Special Edition, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated:
    R
    Restricted
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: March 1, 2005
  • Run Time: 104 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (188 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00005JLHW
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,879 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "My Own Private Idaho (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
Most people seem shocked when I tell them that "My Own Private Idaho" is one of my favorite movies ever, though I don't see why. One of Gus Van Sant's lower budget films, this melancholic adaptation of Shakespeare's "Henry IV" to the American West (chiefly Portland, Oregon and all around the western states) follows the adventures of a road-tripping prodigal son of wealthy and powerful politician (played to perfection by a reflective Keanu Reeves)and his best friend, a narcoleptic prostitute (a visionary performance by the late River Phoenix).
"My Own Private Idaho" is a marvel: dreamlike, eerie, haunting, constantly engaging, often surreal. There are a handful of films I have seen that completely transport me out of the feeling I'm seeing a film: this is one of them. The film's first haunting image of River Phoenix, alone, on a desolate stretch of Western highway, taken by his sickness, has to be seen to be believed; the eerie "Riding the Prairie" is a perfect complement to this movie about two strangers in a very strange land, journeying among the hustlers, hookers, con-men, schemers and bon vivants in the modern American West.
The plot is loose and rangy, and like its subjects, Van Sant uses it as needed to move the story along: Phoenix's character wants a reconciliation with his estranged mother, and certainly peace with himself. Keanu, sensing debauchery and fun, tags along, and the movie rambles about with them, taking note of their adventures and their pursuers (particularly delightful and outre is their awkward and funny tryst with an older woman, spoiled by Phoenix's narcolepsy, and a splendidly funny turn by Udo Kier as Hans, an unbearably kinky German john who simply will not be left behind).
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Format: VHS Tape Verified Purchase
When *My Own Private Idaho* hit the rental shelves of the local movie theater way back in the early 90's, its reputation spread immediately among the young and restless of my small, conservative home-town. The consensus was of near-unanimous disgust, with common descriptions including "sick," "depraved," and that age-old chestnut "Confusing" with a capital "C." And yet my opinion was, typically, not that of the consensus. My artist's spirit identified with the wanderlust-yearning and puckish wonder inhabited in the vagabond Scott and Mike - a somewhat-sheltered mind's naïve lust for that opposite of its own experience. Although I certainly found myself shocked by the depiction of homosexual prostitution, the romantic tone and Shakespearan prose-play helped to penetrate (so to speak) this gutterpunk-fantasy firmly into the deepest reaches of my life-thirsty cerebrum; if anything, I found the homophobic snarls of my teenage compatriots in regards to this film more disturbing - on an immediate, reactionary level - than any fantastical degradation the film itself presented.
Immersed in that heady sensation of nostalgia and curiosity, I looked forward to a mature re-viewing of this art house masterpiece: of filtering Van Zant's intentions through an adult lens. Accordingly, I found that which impressed me most as a child seemed less important to my current mindset, and vice versa - no longer was I wholly enraptured by the wide-shots of empty highways and the plethora of bizarre chance encounters (elements so common to life on the road): having Kerouac'ed my way across the world, I must admit to preferring my own experiences to *Idaho's* hodge-podge questing.
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Format: DVD
I know this review gets a little self-indulgent, but if you'll allow me to get autobiographical for just a second, you'll see why I do.

When River Phoenix breathed his last in front of Johnny Depp's Viper Room on Halloween morning in 1993, I think I was just the right age to feel a certain frisson in his passing that wouldn't have been there a year or two either way. My friend and I came home from a snowy night among trick or treaters to graphic news accounts of Phoenix's passing, and for reasons that made perfect sense to us then, we went out and got this movie on video. Ultimately we ended up buying it and watching it shall we say A LOT till about the end of the year, when new misfortunes came along, eventually in the next spring taking the form of Kurt Cobain's suicide, which trumped all previous newsworthy events in our young lives.

Well, recently I got My Own Private Idaho on DVD, motivated more about nostalgia for ninth-grade and a weirdly River Phoenix obsessed fall than out of remaining affection for the movie itself, but you know, after watching it from my perspective of today, this is a lot better film than for all my sentimentality I'd remembered it being. From its re-telling of Shakespeare with a modern boldness unseen by anything else until Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio's Romeo+Juliet a few years later, to its in-your-face trip into the living hell of junky male prostitutes living homeless in circa 1990 Portland and Seattle, Gus Van Sant's quirky film seems even more an achievement now than it ever did back in the day. In viewing My Own Private Idaho, you get to hear tales of life on the streets as told by real-life hustlers, and you get to see a pre-A-list Keanu Reeves act in his own unique and inimitable style.
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