LUCKY: Harry Dean Stanton and the meaning of life

Harry Dean Stanton in LUCKY. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Let’s not bury the lede: Lucky is Harry Dean Stanton’s last film. Lucky was written for Harry Dean, and the main character is reportedly not dissimilar to Stanton. Here’s my Harry Dean Stanton remembrance.

Lucky is a vivid portrait of a singular character.  It’s also a meditation on life and the end of life and how you can control how you live.

Stanton plays Lucky, a nonagenarian who lives in his isolated house on the edge of a Mojave desert town.  The town is so small that everyone knows everyone else.  There’s not a lot of action in Lucky.  We watch Lucky as he purposefully plods through his modest daily routine: to his refrigerator, to the diner, to the local bar, plopped in front of his TV to watch “my shows”.   Lucky is sometimes confused by age, but retains great strength of conviction and a formidable will.

Lucky is not really anti-social but he is minimally social.  He values his privacy and doesn’t seek human interaction, but he accepts it as it occurs organically.  He is not a stereotypical movie curmudgeon with a heart of gold.  He’s prickly, but capable of authentic  tenderness, as when he shares a joint with a waitress friend and when he belts out the Mexican tearjerker Volver, Volver.

He’s also an atheist.  Being areligious doesn’t mean that someone is amoral. Not at all.  Lucky lives by a firm code – he is so offended when thinks someone is exploiting a grieving friend, he fiercely tries to fight a man fifty years his younger.

But as we observe Lucky not doing much, we are pulled into an increasingly profound contemplation.  How do we choose to live our lives if there’s no afterlife?  How afraid are we of the finality of death?  What is meaningful? What’s in our control?

This is also a pretty funny film.  Lucky reminds us that Harry Dean was a master of both the deadpan and the sarcastic jibe.  And Lucky has lived decades without female or other supervision, and his habits, like watering cactus in his underwear and cowboy boots, are pretty entertaining.

Lucky is the first film directed by the actor John Carroll Lynch, so creepy in Zodiac and so heartbreaking in The Founder. Lynch is a confident enough director to take his time. And, if you have any doubt about where Lynch sees Lucky on the continuum of life, check out this shot.

Harry Dean Stanton in LUCKY. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Lynch gets excellent performances out of the rest of the cast: Ed Begley, Jr., James Darren (yes, the 60s heartthrob), Ron Livingston, Barry Shabaka Henley (recently so good in Paterson), Yvonne Huff and, surprisingly, the director David Lynch. Tom Skeritt delivers a moving monologue.

But, in the end, this is Harry Dean Stanton’s film. And, to Lynch’s credit, it’s a fine way to remember Harry Dean.

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