Ninety-one-year-old atheist has outlived almost all of his coevals and now he is facing his own mortality and elusive enlightenment. An eccentric meditation on mortality, this film is seasoned with a lot of humour and warmth, featuring Harry Dean Stanton in his first leading role since Travis Henderson in Paris, Texas. His face emerges from the desert like a Giacomettian silhouette, and the bar in which he hangs out with David Lynch and other regulars becomes his purgatory. His gloomy rendition of the Mexican folk song Volver, Volver at a children’s birthday party will stay with us forever.
And who better for such a closing performance than the icon of American indie film Harry Dean Stanton, who uses silence as the trusty tool of an old histrionic bard. Either as the cock fighter Jack Burke or rebel Blind Dick in Hellman’s deconstructions of the genre of western (Cockfighter and Ride the Whirlwind), either in Hollywood blockbusters like Alien and Pretty in Pink, or in Avengers (2012), where “the best fuckin’ scene in the film got cut out”. He was also the gay hitchhiker from Oklahoma in Two-Lane Blacktop, not to mention his long collaboration with David Lynch (Wild at Heart, Straight Story, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me). If any genre is threatened with extinction, it is American indie movie. Lucky is the type of film they don’t make anymore, it reminds of Jarmusch or Hartley at their best. But Jarmusch today makes films like Paterson, whose structure reminds of Lucky. However, the old cowboy is miles away from the bus driver/poet from the namesake New Jersey town. Instead of Jarmusch’s smug sugar-coated homage to ‘the little man’, no matter how seemingly meaningless their existence might be, Carroll Lynch delivers this fragile and laconic film which offers no simple answers to the complex questions about life and death, but rather rebuffs them with a smile. The old cowboy coolly lights a cigarette and embraces darkness. The end credits roll, Lynch’s lost turtle appears (President Roosevelt!) and Foster Timms sings The Man in The Moon Shine.
French anthropologist Philippe Ariès showed us how the great temptation of the West throughout the centuries was how to escape death; in the late Middle Ages death was gradually repressed and the forbidden death we know today emerged. That is why the old cowboy, departing to nothing, to the void (ungatz) with a smile on his rundown, weary face, is so subversive. With no false pretentions and comforting words. One cannot imagine a more magnificent and suitable cinematic farewell of this silent hero of Americana.