A Quiet Allegory for an Actor’s Life in “Lucky”

A black and white graphic of actor Harry Dean Stanton as Lucky.
(Sean Ogami • The Student Life)

Sometimes life takes you on strange path, and you find something wonderful in the most unexpected place.

I had several plans this weekend to see different movies. First, I was going to re-watch David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” in order to a) finally get caught up to the main series and b) force myself to sit through the almost painful first half-hour to get to what people had told me was the really good part. 

That plan fell through, so I decided to catch a screening of Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman’s “Loving Vincent,” which I figured would be pretty apt, since I’m an art history major. But I missed the showing by just a few minutes when I went to grab some dinner first, so in the end I found myself watching late actor Harry Dean Stanton’s last film, “Lucky”, which – pun intended – was pretty lucky for me. 

“Lucky” is John Carroll Lynch’s directorial debut. The movie tells the story of Lucky, a 90-year old atheist who has become the beloved curmudgeon of his small western town. We follow his day to day activities as he navigates the world of the elderly. For a 90-year old, Lucky is sound in body and mind, even if he has had a fateful fall which sets off the philosophical crux of the plot as he ruminates on his and everyone else’s inevitable fates. 

Stanton gives a great last performance, infusing Lucky’s cynical character with his own wildly fatalistic beliefs as well as his musicianship. The cast is rounded out by great performances by David Lynch, who plays Howard, Lucky’s friend who frets over his lost tortoise; and Bertila Damas, who, as Bibi, acts as the compassionate core of the film. 

The dramedy tends to hit the mark with some great dialogue between Lucky and the townsfolk at his local diner and watering hole on the subjects of the absence of the soul, what we do in the face of death, and what death means to those remaining after we die. 

Sometimes, though, things feel a little too tongue in cheek or – even more egregiously – the film’s framing doesn’t fit the dialogue or the action. For example, some of the lighting feels flat, like a sitcom, and at times, the cinematography feels so stale that it makes a mockery of the dark text. 

John Carroll Lynch does balance this occasional flatness out with some truly surreal moments where you have to stop and wonder in what world the story is even taking place. Possibly done in a send-up to David Lynch, who in addtion to being in the movie was an important artistic collaborator with Stanton. While these departures from the cinematic norm are interesting, I have to wonder whether they were helpful in the pursuit of the film’s message. 

The film is, of course, more based on the dialogue and the acting, which are great. However, the film is frustratingly undercut by its technical aspects. However, at the end of the day, “Lucky” is really about the performance of Stanton and the parallels between the end of his life and the film, and in that respect, the movie is a great send-off for this consummate performer who has worked with some of the greater actors and performers in Hollywood. If you’re more of a fan of character studies rather than mile-a-minute action, I think you’ll find this film extremely satisfying and genuinely affecting. 


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