Harry Dean Stanton, who died on Sept. 15 at age 91, always looked a little old and a little young. He had one of those no-age faces, so radiant in its ragged beauty that assigning a number to it always felt thankless, if not outright wrong. In Lucky, one of his final films–the feature directorial debut of actor John Carroll Lynch (Shutter Island, Gran Torino)–he plays a man living quietly but mindfully in a small desert town. Lucky’s day starts with a few cigarettes and a yoga interlude, segues into breakfast with a crossword puzzle at the diner and ends with a drink down at the bar, where his friends include an elegant, vaguely forlorn-looking geezer named Howard (David Lynch, quixotic and marvelous).
Howard is mourning the departure of his elderly pet tortoise, who sneaked out and never returned. Lucky comforts Howard almost without shifting his expression. In this role, as with so many characters of his–the amnesiac wanderer in Paris, Texas, the deadpan-philosophical car repossessor in Repo Man–Stanton’s gifts prove to be the quiet kind. He doesn’t show emotion; it’s incandescent within him, like a night-light.
Lucky was written by Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja specifically for Stanton, and director Lynch and cinematographer Tim Suhrstedt do him justice in every frame. Even as we watch, Stanton’s face seems to melt into the landscape around him, a kingdom of cacti reaching toward the sky with tiers of sheltering mountains in the distance. One of the movie’s finest lines of dialogue is one that Stanton’s Lucky shrugs off when, on his walk home after breakfast, he stops at the convenience store for his customary carton of milk. He chats for a minute with the friendly proprietor before taking his leave: “Well, I gotta go, my shows are on.” You may have heard of the Irish goodbye, or the French exit: the practice of leaving a party swiftly and quietly. This is the Stanton goodbye. If only every actor we loved could leave us with a farewell film like this one.
This appears in the October 09, 2017 issue of TIME.