In ‘Lucky,’ a contemplation of the reality of death
‘Lucky’ tackles both aging and death with feeling and dignity.
Directed by John Carroll Lynch (Magnolia Pictures, 2017)
Harry Dean Stanton died on September 15, 2017 at the age of 91. This was just after completing the film Lucky, in which Stanton plays a man named Lucky who is approaching the end of his life and contemplating the reality of death and the meaning of existence. It’s a powerful convergence and gives Lucky an even more momentous and sobering dimension.
Yet it’s important not to become too nostalgic when viewing Lucky, lest we breeze over its challenging perspective. The film tackles two important aspects of life—aging and death—and it does so experientially and philosophically.
We watch the slow routine of Lucky’s days that Stanton imbues with great feeling and dignity. An unexpected fall leads to a doctor’s visit and the uncomfortable suggestion of assisted living. We witness the care and concern of neighbors reaching out to try to help this fiercely independent man. Memories surface from the course of a lifetime which he shares seeking greater insight and connection. We see his anger and fear as he feels his life changing. These attentive and empathetic details of aging are rarely seen in a film industry so obsessed with youth and are part of the film’s strength.
The philosophical judgments Lucky proposes about life, however, are another matter. He is convinced there is nothing beyond this life and death is the end. The film offers little voice to any other perspective. So what we see is Lucky’s attempt to come to peace with his belief.
The film attempts to portray his final atheistic conclusion as heroic. From a Catholic perspective it’s difficult not to see it as sadly tragic. Still, there is a sublime wonder when Lucky seizes the moment at a child’s fiesta and backed by a mariachi band sings, “Volver, Volver.” Despite everything he sees the great gift of life.
This article also appears in the January 2018 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 83, No. 2, page 40).
Image: © Stefania Rosini. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.