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Quiet pilgrimage of an ageing atheist

  • 16 November 2017


Lucky (MA). Director: John Carroll Lynch. Starring: Harry Dean Stanton, David Lynch, Ron Livingston, Tom Skerritt, Beth Grant, James Darren, Yvonne Huff, Barry Shabaka Henley, Bertila Damas. 88 minutes

'I'm on a path to insanity, and even though everything tortures me, I know how to love.' So declare (in Spanish) the opening lines of Vicente Fernández's 'Volver, Volver'. The song features prominently in Lucky, sung impromptu by its titular hero at the birthday party of the young son of a Hispanic American friend.

Elsewhere the sentiment is echoed in Johnny Cash's cover of Will Oldham's 'I See A Darkness': 'Did you know how much I love you? Is a hope that somehow you can save me from this darkness.' These songs form twin epithets to a story about a man who finds quiet joy in personal relationships while contemplating the void he believes exists beyond impending death.

The late great character actor Stanton, who died in September this year at the age of 91, completed shooting on this film in the space of 18 days — his final performance — and if the role of Lucky seems like it was tailor made for him it's no accident. Screenwriters Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja wrote the script with him in mind, and embellished it with some of his biographical details.

An elegiac harmonica refrain from the traditional 'Red River Valley', performed by Stanton, haunts some of the film's quieter moments, and Foster Timms' song about Stanton, 'The Man in the Moonshine', plays over the closing credits. Explicitly, the film emerges as a living tribute to him.

But it does so gently, and with an eye always on larger realities. Stanton's Lucky is a 90-year-old atheist, whose daily routines seemingly have prolonged his life in defiance of a pack-a-day smoking habit. He inhabits a weather-worn desert town where he is well known to the locals, from the proprietor, Joe (Shabaka Henley) of the diner where he sits to do his daily crossword, to the staff and patrons of the dive bar where he spends his evenings, to the warm-hearted shopkeeper (Damas) who with unexpected candidness invites him to attend her son's birthday party. Lately Lucky has death on his mind, and these and other various acquaintances serve as stars by which he navigates his close-held fears of impending oblivion.


"To know that he is loved is the thing that allows Lucky to smile in the face of death