The passing of Harry Dean Stanton crushed us all. With just under two hundred credits to his name, the man had become an icon – appearing in some of the best films ever made (Paris, Texas, The Green Mile, Alien, Repo Man) and quite a few “mainstream” films as well (The Avengers, Rango). All lovers of cinema know his face, and this is the last time you’ll ever get to see it on the big screen. Stanton plays the title character of Lucky, a ninety-year-old atheist who embarks on a journey of self-discovery in his small desert town.
With a narrative that entirely follows humans sharing conversation, you’d hope that the writing is strong enough to carry the film and lock your interest from beginning to end. First-time writers Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja’s quick and emotional dialogue goes the extra mile to make sure you are fully invested in this small town and the characters that inhabit it. The character of Lucky is one that shares many similarities to other “sarcastic elderly” characters but instead of being used strictly for comic relief purposes, Lucky is portrayed as an actual human being. There are countless moments of pure humanity coming from Stanton’s phenomenal performance. These moments can range from subtle facial expressions to full-blown, emotionally-climactic monologues about your time on this world and making the most out of it.
Nothing is as it seems or is fully explained with this character either. There are a few times where Lucky dials an unknown number and vents to an unknown person about what has been on his mind lately. We never find out who this mystery person is and director John Carroll Lynch doesn’t want us to – as he said during the Q&A last night, “whoever you thought he was talking to, you are correct!”.
David Lynch’s wacky but surprisingly heartfelt subplot adds to the moral of the story in ways that you wouldn’t expect. Thanks to Mr. Lynch’s exceptional acting abilities and the director’s sublime execution the line “there are some things in this universe, ladies and gentlemen, that are bigger than all of us and a tortoise is one of them!” changed from something that would seem intentionally comedic out of context to a beautiful and emotional character arc for Howard (David Lynch).
After all is said and done, the real emotion comes from the final shot. Harry Dean Stanton walks down a desert road before the film cuts and the credits begin the roll (and for my screening, the uproarious applause began). There’s something kind of beautiful in knowing that he wasn’t beaten by anything or taken before he was ready. He left on his own terms, with a smile plastered across his face. This film is an absolutely beautiful meditation on what it means to be human and is a perfect send-off to an absolute legend in film and life. Go see this one as soon as possible and try not to choke up during it, I dare you.