Telling Stories to Build Community: Talking and Listening in Lucky

David Lynch (left), and Harry Dean Stanton are longtime collaborators and friends. Stanton has appeared in many of Lynch’s films and on his Twin Peaks TV Series.

“Lucky” is a story about what is possible when people sit to tell and to listen to each other’s stories. In “Lucky,” the place where this happens is a low-lit bar where the people of a small desert town gather to talk.

In this way, “Lucky” invites audiences to witness how the disparate members of an out-of-the-way town congeal into something of a loving community. The talk and they listen to each other. The true bricks of this film, “Lucky” seems to say, are the very same bricks that people use to build community: telling and listening to other’s stories.

One scene in particular seems to show the intimacy that’s borne out of being there to tell something, and being there to listen. David Lynch (Director of Eraserhead, Mulholland Drive, Twin Peaks) shares a key scene with Lucky in the film (the two were friends beyond the screen) in which the camera closes in on both as Lucky tells a story.

Whereas Lucky does nearly all the talking in the scene, it’s clear why director John Carroll Lynch keeps the shot open to both speaker and listener: David Lynch’s listening is equally important here. At points his mouth drops open, at others his mouth widens in smile––this is a listener who is all-in.

“Lucky” presents stories as currency in an economy of friendship and love. But the way John Carroll Lynch shoots the actors suggests that in order for storytelling to do the community building work it’s capable of doing we need to get beyond the type of talking and listening that’s merely transactional.

In “Lucky” people arrive at the bar for the purpose of talking and for the purpose of listening. This seems key to the transformational power that the film seems to want to ascribe to Harry Dean Stanton’s characteristic talking. It’s as if the film wants to, through the way it features the actor and how it puts him into action with others, show us that there’s different ways to talk, to listen.

There’s a story about a kid shooting a bird that Harry Dean Stanton tells (it emerges in Sophie Huber’s documentary about Stanton’s life, “Partly Fiction,” as it does in “Lucky.”) What happens in the story isn’t really the point, though. Not as much as what it seems to be about, which is love and guilt and remorse.

The gravitas that’s often ascribed to Harry Dean Stanton (thinking back to the opening shot of the late actor’s first starring role in “Paris, Texas”) has often been ascribed to the way he stands, walks, and lately, the cracks in his face––to the way these (and the camera) catch the light. “Lucky” makes a compelling case for how it’s the actor’s way of telling stories that makes him weighty.

Often, celebrations of people’s lives involve the telling of stories. “Lucky,” in some respects, seems to be some sort of prescient celebration of the life of Henry Dean Stanton. It’s fitting then, that it so prominently features stories, most of them Stanton’s, and with him still around to tell them.

Rubén Casas is an assistant professor of English at Fresno State, and he serves on the Filmworks board as a member of the marketing committee.