The impression I get of Harry Dean Stanton from interviews is that he was a sort of zen nihilist, an atheist who sought and possibly achieved a kind of contentment with the ultimate meaninglessness of life. His last starring role, 2017's Lucky
, reminded me I also get the impression he had a lot of friends who loved him and who were gently trying to convince him there really is something more to life. As a character played by David Lynch in the movie puts it, "There are some things in this universe that are bigger than all of us and a tortoise is one of them." But the movie's not pushy or preachy and while director John Carroll Lynch gives the film a rough, inexperienced touch oddly reminiscent of 90s indie film sentimentality, it is genuinely sweet and impossible not to like if you have any fondness for Harry Dean Stanton.
Stanton plays a man basically like himself except he's not a movie star. Known only as Lucky, he's like Stanton in that he served in World War II, has a lot of friends who love and respect him, and he considers spiritual beliefs to be subjective illusions. The film consists mainly of dialogue scenes set in a diner, a bar, and in Lucky's house where discussion between Lucky and other characters explores contrasts between his personal philosophy and his friends'.
My favourite of those locations was the bar. It's only here that David Lynch turns up and, apart from Stanton, he's the best part of the film. He plays a man named Howard, always wearing a panama hat and a half tied flashy bow tie. Also at the bar, though, is James Darren whom some might remember as Vic Fontaine from Deep Space Nine
--perhaps this is related to the fact that DS9
showrunner Ira Steven Behr was a producer on Lucky
Darren's character tries to prove a point to the life long bachelor Lucky (Stanton also never married) by discussing his happy marriage to Elaine (Beth Grant) but Lucky still manages to turn Darren's argument around to make a point about life's meaninglessness. The argument amusingly ends with Lucky lighting up a cigarette next to a no smoking sign.
A lot of familiar faces show up in the movie, including Stanton's co-star from Alien
, Tom Skerritt, who makes a cameo in the diner as a fellow World War II veteran. He shares a story about the happiness on the face of a Buddhist child during the war because her beliefs informed her what was going to happen after what she thought was her approaching death. Lucky does confide at one point that he is frightened of death but the film never diminishes the dignity of his convictions. By the end of it, you like him partly because he could be right, and you want him to be wrong because you like him.