In his final screen role, Harry Dean Stanton takes centre stage as the eponymous Lucky; a forthright ninety-year-old reconciling and confronting his inescapable fate.
Known for being a recognisable character-actor, John Carroll Lynch takes a step behind the camera to make a directorial debut from a script sculpted in secret by those who knew Harry Dean Stanton best. His assistant of fifteen years, Logan Sparks working in tandem with screenwriter Drago Sumonja. It’s an effort which pay dividends, as Stanton had recently shirked off some major roles, before landing this custom-engineered film. The demands of shooting a film in seventeen days is pressure enough for any actor in their youth, but at the grand age of eighty-nine, Stanton actively steps up to the mark with little sign of fatigue, except where warranted.
Lucky fits a ‘journey’ remit, but it is far more meditative than meets the eye.
As an insular, slightly curmudgeonly hermit, Lucky is a private man of routine. He wakes, he smokes, he precisely carries out his yoga, he sees the same faces and delivers familiar greetings to those in the local neighbourhood. He is world-weary; he grumps at new acceptances of sexuality, and primarily, despises faith in so far as to declare ‘the soul does not exist’. Lynch’s film never singles out any denomination of belief, but he makes inherently transparent that Lucky’s impending date with death is an inner turmoil, opting to front this with an equally transparent bravery.
The meta quality of the screenplay, and subsequent death of Stanton, enlivens the ironic ‘realism’ which Lucky pursues. There’s acceptance for the situation as there is a respect for the beliefs of others, and Lucky traverses the narrative by bouncing from situational moments, constantly learning from them. Even in the most innocent moments, such as a birthday party or a lost pet, death is constantly rearing its head, and Lucky finds the only counsel in an anonymous person whom he calls using a red phone.
Lynch is a touch too pointed in some of his symbolism (a hellish exit sign, a godly light), but when the screenplay gets it right, the symbolism becomes part of an organic discourse. Subtly weaved in is a strand exploring humanity’s relationship with its surroundings, foremost that of the animal world. A running gag involving an escaped pet tortoise, belonging to David Lynch’s character, is a brilliant set up for the consideration of things which will outlive our own consciousnesses. And while I mention David Lynch, a great director he may be, but he delivers lines with a bizarre stiltedness befitting of an amateur.
For an actor as revered as Stanton, it is surprising that this is only the second time in his career where he has been cast as the lead (the other being Wim Wenders’ iconic Paris, Texas). It’s a spritely exit-stage-left, eulogising the many thoughts you would imagine Stanton mulled on during his final years, but facing them with a renewed, positive outlook on mortality. Chillingly, in its closing moments, there is a fourth-wall break – a reassuring nod to camera – as if Stanton knew his departure was imminent, but that his indelible imprint on the world will live on.