LUCKY, directed by John Carroll Lynch, his first film, stars the late Harry Dean Stanton, David Lynch, Ron Livingston, Ed Begley Jr., Tom Skerritt, Beth Grant, James Darren, Barry Shabaka Henley, and Yvonne Huff Lee. Lucky is a character driven drama peppered with humor and filled with brilliant and esoteric dialogue.
Harry Dean Stanton plays Lucky, a 90-year-old man living on his own in a quirky small town, filled with eccentric characters, who must confront his mortality when he becomes faint, loses his balance and falls on his kitchen floor. He is shaken by his fall and begins a journey of self-reflection reflecting on his past and present. The film stars David Lynch as Lucky’s friend, Howard, who loses his pet tortoise, named President Roosevelt.
The film opens with an early morning shot of a mountainous landscape. It cuts to a wide angle shot of a tortoise moving slowing across a desert landscape than cuts to an exterior shot of a bungalow. The film moves inside the bungalow to a quick succession of shots of Lucky lighting a cigarette, getting out of bed, doing his daily ablutions, exercising in his underwear, a shot of a framed photograph of a dapper young man in uniform (Lucky/Stanton as a young man), all of which is accompanied to Mexican music. When dressed and ready to leave, he pauses briefly at his door, the light seeping through the cracks in the frame door, and walks out into a blinding white light. Much information is gleaned in these brief snapshots. We are introduced to Lucky, the protagonist of the film, and the tortoise which plays a key pivotal role in the film. Howard’s monologue about the meaning of his pet tortoise at Elaine’s bar is deeply touching and a brilliant piece of acting.
Does art imitate life? Perhaps, it does in the film LUCKY where actualities cross over in art. Stanton, an octogenarian himself, plays a nonagenarian in the film. The role of Lucky was written with Stanton specifically in mind and sadly, he won’t see its release and critical acclaim. Stanton recently passed at the age of 91 on September 15, 2017. The film draws on Stanton’s musical attributes. He sings and plays the harmonica in the film. His rendition of the song ‘Volver, Volver ‘ sung in Spanish at Juan’s birthday party was deeply moving. Lucky and Stanton both served in the Navy, and remained single. In life, Stanton and David Lynch were friends and collaborated on numerous film projects. The similarities blur the boundaries between actor and character and give the film a complexity only enriched by Stanton’s fragility, dignity and gravitas. You forget that Stanton is acting a role and see him as Lucky. It’s an Oscar worthy performance!
The film poses important existential questions about life itself, and aspects of metaphysics. Lucky remarks in the film that you come in alone and go out alone. As he comes to terms with his mortality and his take on life against the backdrop of life in a small Western town with exchanges with larger than life friends and acquaintances that weave themselves throughout the narrative serving as the dramatic tension that carries the film, he experiences a new awareness and change of perception. He becomes enlightened. He realizes that he has friends who care for him and in those brief, temporary moments of time and place shared with others he is not alone, and we are not alone. His experiences become our experiences.
The visuals reveal much about the meaning of the story. We quickly become acquainted with Lucky’s world and images of Lucky in his home doing his routine, working on his crossword puzzles, making his telephone calls, watching TV game shows, and walking into town along a desert landscape, and along Main Street. And when those same images play later in the film without his presence, you worry and wonder what became of Lucky? After getting to know him and to appreciate his presence, you feel you lost him. And one of the powerful scenes in the film is when he looks directly at the camera against a backdrop of a deep blue sky and smiles. You feel his joy, and are joyful too.
LUCKY is a gem of a film, well-written, beautifully acted and directed, and lovingly shot. Do see it! You won’t be disappointed.
Films We Like releases Lucky at TIFF Bell Lightbox on Friday, Oct 6, 2017