“It’s all going to go away … into blackness, the void.”
“And what do you do with that?”
“What do we do with that?”
Harry Dean Stanton was the quintessential actor’s actor and his last film is a fitting final act for a stellar career. (Stanton passed away on September 15, 2017 at the ripe old age of 91.) In Lucky (2017) Stanton plays an aging atheist who begins to contemplate his mortality. His quiet ruminations, interwoven with many memorable interactions with townfolk, culminate at the local diner when he shares war stories with a WW2 vet (Tom Skerritt). The vet recalls invading an island of terrified Japanese people who expected the American soldiers to massacre them en masse. Then one smiling girl appeared. The vet observed to his superior officer that at least one person is glad to see them. The officer replied sagely that, in fact, the young girl was a Buddhist who willed a smile to meet what she believed to be her certain fate.
That powerful story provides the answer Lucky the atheist has been looking for. And in the penultimate scene of the movie, he gives this speech to his friends at the local watering hole:
Lucky’s speech reminds me of this oft-quoted passage from Bertrand Russell’s famous essay “A Free Man’s Worship”:
Brief and powerless is Man’s life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way; for Man, condemned to-day to lose his dearest, to-morrow himself to pass through the gate of darkness, it remains only to cherish, ere yet the blow falls, the lofty thoughts that ennoble his little day; disdaining the coward terrors of the slave of Fate, to worship at the shrine that his own hands have built; undismayed by the empire of chance, to preserve a mind free from the wanton tyranny that rules his outward life; proudly defiant of the irresistible forces that tolerate, for a moment, his knowledge and his condemnation, to sustain alone, a weary but unyielding Atlas, the world that his own ideals have fashioned despite the trampling march of unconscious power.
Or as Lucky puts it, You smile…