Mixing the profound with the absurd, Lucky pays tribute to the late Harry Dean Stanton and leaves audiences pondering.
There’s a certain poetry in daily routines, the quiet reassurance of repetition over years. But it can be treacherous, as nothing ever stays the same – there is one inescapable truth that always catches up.
That’s where Lucky comes in, the directorial debut of actor John Carroll Lynch and the opening film of last year’s Viennale. Within the first few minutes, Lynch crafts an immersive world – which is for the best, as he has no time to lose with only 88 minutes and a multitude of ideas. But despite its run-time, Lucky manages to explore loneliness, mortality, fear of the unknown and the meaning of life (or lack thereof), using astute observation and occasional humor.
Living somewhere out in the American West, 90-year-old Navy veteran Lucky (Harry Dean Stanton) finds comfort in predictability: He owns identical plaid shirts and cowboy hats, wearing them every day; his fridge always holds exactly three cartons of milk (and nothing else) and he repeats the same five yoga exercises exactly 21 times each morning. The town eccentric, he sticks out like a loose thread among the tight-knit community , blunt and reflective while his neighbors lead happy, unexamined lives. He speaks litlle, besides sardonic comments at the local diner where he gets his morning coffee. His tranquility is broken only when he falls on the ground weakened by old age.
But in this poetic film, the injury is less physical and more spiritual.
Coming to Terms
The loose symbolism and quiet, effective cinematography lend Lucky an allegorical feel, not unlike a country song that makes you read between the lines. The deliberate pace avoids sensory overload, giving plenty of time for its significant pauses to sink in. As Lucky puts it himself: “The only thing worse than awkward silence [is] small talk.”
While the plot and dialogue take a back-seat, the stunning Western landscape fills the silence. But when there is talk, it is often quirky and absurdist. Ron Livingston and Beth Grant, who play an elderly couple contribute greatly, as does Barry Shabaka Henley as the owner of the local diner, delivering snappy lines and balancing profundity with well-timed irreverence.
As Lucky’s friend Howard (David Lynch) mourns the loss of his escaped pet tortoise, Lucky projects his frustration onto him after a few too many Bloody Marys, slurring: “He’s gone, Howard, and you’re all alone – we come in alone and we go out alone…” But it’s not really about Howard or his pet; Lucky’s nihilism echoes his inner struggle with death – and even worse, the loss of control. It takes quite a journey for Lucky to accept that.
And while Lucky is blunt in pointing out its larger themes, Harry Dean Stanton makes the protagonist his own, compensating with a sublime and nuanced performance. In frequent close-ups, Stanton uses the smallest twitches to paint his character’s entire inner journey on his weather-beaten face. Identifying with his role came easy to Stanton: Lucky was written as a tribute to the legendary actor and is strongly inspired by his own life, blurring the lines between the stylized world of film and ours. Active since the 1950s with over 200 film performances including everything from Cool Hand Luke to Alien to Paris, Texas, Stanton passed away last September at 91, just before Lucky’s release. He couldn’t have asked for a better curtain call.