by Matt Weiner
It’s a fitting tribute to the range of Harry Dean Stanton that his career could’ve ended with just about any role and you could decently argue, “Well, that makes sense.” But to give us Lucky at the end of a decades-long career is nothing short of one last cosmic joke at the non-religious character’s expense: God not only exists, but is a huge Harry Dean Stanton fan.
Lucky is the debut feature from John Carroll Lynch, who is, like Stanton, a gifted character actor probably used to being called “ohhh that guy!” And with Lucky (written by Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja), the collaboration between Lynch and Stanton is pitch-perfect.
As Lucky, Stanton carries more weight than his brittle frame should bear. Lucky is a 90-year-old World War II veteran who has seemingly outlived everything save death. A minor fall and a visit with the town doctor (Ed Begley Jr.) prods the tequila-drinking, cigarette-smoking atheist Lucky to maybe, finally, reflect on his mortality, which he does begrudgingly through a series of interactions with local friends and strangers.
With little more than a light of his cigarette or a hoarse whisper of “bullshit,” Lucky makes it clear that he hasn’t the time or interest in what comfort God or religion has to offer in a world of horrors and loss. Yet the film is deeply—reverently—spiritual.
Lucky is the spiritual heir of Max von Sydow’s knight from The Seventh Seal, if he got to live out his days through the funhouse of America. The oppressive Lutheranism of Ingmar Bergman has been replaced by a more searching acceptance—and both films uncomfortably force us to make our own peace with the time we have.
If Lucky doesn’t waver in his beliefs, he can still realize a sort of spiritual enlightenment. You get the sense, with his age and relative good health, that Lucky is more afraid of being immune to destiny than of dying, and how can anyone find meaning in that?
Thankfully, the film gives Lucky perfectly cast sounding boards to figure it out by way of the supporting characters, especially a show-stealing turn from David Lynch as a man in mourning for his lost tortoise, President Roosevelt. (That this doesn’t crack the top five strangest moments in the history of David Lynch/Harry Dean Stanton collaborations is saying something.)
John Carroll Lynch chooses to leave us with something hovering between resolution and reservation, as if Lucky is one long Zen koan. But knowing how things end doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to discover. Watching Stanton in any performance is to see flashes of some elusive truth buried within his characters. Watching him as Lucky is an untouchable capstone.