[…] From the very beginning of the film everything is consciously staged – and I imagine that we are meant to perceive this staging as such –, every detail is there to illustrate a piece of the puzzle of Stanton’s daily life.
[…] It was brilliant of John Carroll Lynch to cast David Lynch for Howard’s role, insofar as David Lynch perfectly embodies the role of echoing the older glory of American cinema that Harry Dean Stanton represents.
Harry Dean Stanton: 91 years old, Tom Skerritt: 84 years old, David Lynch: 71 years old; all three of them in the South-West of the United States. Lucky seems to be an alternative answer to the Coen brothers’ statement in No Country for Old Men (2007). Harry Dean Stanton–alias: Lucky–’s village in the desert is a place for old men. Around the celebrated Stanton (see for example the nice recent filmic portrait Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction, 2012, by Swiss filmmaker Sophie Huber) John Carroll Lynch gathers all the cinematic clichés of the Western genre in order to give to Stanton the perfect setting for what wants to be a passionate homage to him.
From the very beginning of the film everything is consciously staged – and I imagine that we are meant to perceive this staging as such –, every detail is there to illustrate a piece of the puzzle of Stanton’s daily life. With his age and his independent spirit, Lucky embodies an old image of America and an old style of the American movies. There is a particular coincidence between Lucky’s cynicism and the fact that the clichés are staged in a way that prevents us from feeling completely immersed in the movie. We see the typical elements of the West (the cactus, the desert, the wind, the cowboy hat and boots) and of older American movies (the house with its TV, fridge, clock, couch, the pub with its well-known rituals, etc.) as if they were quotations. But the fact that we are pushed towards a meta-narrative perception perfectly suits the cynicism of the main character, which is absolutely the central attraction of the movie. Both the meta-narrative aspect as well as Lucky’s cynicism imply a certain distance from the story that is told.
Throughout Lucky’s regular daily life we face more of an atmosphere and a general mood than a story. It is the mood of a man who wants to be alone, who tries to avoid the sadness of loneliness, which seems nevertheless to grasp his soul. Actually, the loneliness emerges as fragility and fear start to appear in Lucky’s life for he is obliged to confront the reality of the dependence that old age implies. The self-sufficiency of the cowboy is affected, constituting the collapse of a deep credo, the end of the American spirit. Through the soft philosophy of the small-talk in the pub, the (previously only staged) clichés of the Western genre leave room for a more existential mood, somehow recalling Jim Jarmusch’s filmic style. We continue to have the impression that all of it is “only” staged, but the quality of the dialogues manages to save the scenes. Logan Sparks (long-time assistant of Harry Dean Stanton) and Drago Sumonja have to be praised for the nice script.
Lucky’s life is puzzling, he is no longer the same man he once was. His pragmatic and cynic view on “realism” is challenged. Where he had once been able to accept life with coolness, he now realizes that he should also accept the unacceptable, namely, the loss of his proud independence. The turning point, or a sort of conversion for Lucky, comes in the discussion with an old veteran (Tom Skerritt). This scene appears like the quotation of yet another cliché in American films – old veterans speaking about life and death – but in fact it is so powerful that it not only saves Lucky’s soul but also restores a genuinely immersive and emotional style in John Carroll Lynch’s movie. The ability to smile notwithstanding the worst situations in life: that is the deeper level of acceptance – i.e. of realism – that one can learn to develop.
Howard’s parallel story in Lucky – Howard being a friend of Lucky who has lost his most precious friend, Roosevelt the tortoise – echoes the parabola of despair-then-acceptance of Lucky himself. It was brilliant of John Carroll Lynch to cast David Lynch for Howard’s role, insofar as David Lynch perfectly embodies the role of echoing the older glory of American cinema that Harry Dean Stanton represents. A further gesture of acceptance is expressed by the inversion of roles of the two: the actor John Carroll trying himself as a director and the director David Lynch playing as an actor…
David Lynch/Howard’s dramatic plea for the importance of overcoming our comprehension (the meaning of being a tortoise…) and Harry Dean Stanton/Lucky’s final rendition of Volver at the birthday celebration for the Mexican clerk in the neighbourhood are both scenes of humility that might have a touch of kitsch had they not come at the end of an entire movie expressing the coolness of its protagonist. But the suspension of the quoting and nostalgic attitude of the movie gives a cinematic authenticity to these scenes. There is something about the quintessential sound of Mariachi bands in classic Westerns, the musical reminder of the proximity of the Mexican border to the American South-West: the loud emotions in this music come as a warm human wind that saves the lonely soul of the cool cowboy.
Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore
First published: August 14, 2017