Cool Hand Luke


This is the story of a man who fought against the system. Lucas Jackson gets thrown into a work camp for "destroying municipal property," and even while there continues to fight against anything that gives him rules to follow. The men in the camp admire him; and even Dragline, the assumed leader of the prisoners, gives Luke his respect. Luke gets tired of being the only one who seems to care about breaking free, even God seems to have abandoned him. Read on to find out why this is one of my favorite movies.

Entertainment Value - A

For the longest time this was my absolute favorite movie and it still ranks among the top ten. Paul Newman's and George Kennedy's performances are awesome. The multiple attempts at escape from the prison never get boring. You never get tired of the constant change and rebellion Luke introduces to the prison. Some people can't seem to make it through the first part of the movie, and I can't understand why! Mostly people who have a hard time watching anything that isn't newer than the 1980's (though that's even pushing it for some!).

Moral Value - Failure to Communicate? - 5

Why is this movie the theme for our blog? For one, it was one of my favorite movies and "Cool Hand Critics" had a nice ring to it. From there, we were able to introduce other elements of the movie into our reviews (World Shakers, Nights In The Box, etc.). Here are some of the reasons why it is among my favorite movies:

Unwritten Rules

At the beginning of the film, when Luke first comes to the camp and the other prisoners are playing cards, he makes pretty clear his disdain for rule makers. Dragline and the other prisoners are explaining all the "unwritten" rules of the prison and that Dragline is basically the king of the coop. Luke just laughs and when confronted, he responds that there just seem to be "a lot of guys laying down rules and regulations."

Unwritten societal rules (e.g., might makes right, herd mentality, etc.) sometimes keep us from progressing, whereas true rules (i.e., commandments, covenants, etc.) should help us in our progression as human beings and children of God. This isn't the case for all unwritten rules (e.g., etiquette, chivalrous manners, etc.), but we need to do more than just follow someone blindly like most of the prisoners ended up doing with Dragline and later with Luke. We need to live/know for ourselves and understand what impact our decisions and actions have on our spiritual and physical well being.

"Nothing Can Be a Real Cool Hand"

Luke and Dragline had a boxing match and even though Luke was very badly beat-up, he never gave up; in fact he told Dragline, "you're gonna have to kill me." Luke later ends up winning a poker game with a hand of nothing and states that, "Sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand." Dragline admits that he was beat in the fight with nothing just as Koko was in the poker game (meaning even though Luke didn't beat Dragline physically, Luke sure didn't lose).

Sometimes by just standing your ground, no matter what the odds are against you, you can come out on top. This constancy exhibited in one's faith and conviction of principles or standards can define a person's being.

"Get Out There Yourself!"

After one of the many times Luke escapes the prison and is brought back (bloody and beaten) all the men can do nothing but comment on what a grand ol' time he must have had while he was out (particularly because Luke had sent them a picture of himself between two attractive ladies, revealed at this time to be a phony). Exasperated he yells, "Stop feedin' off me! Get out there yourself! I can't breathe!"

How often do we live our lives through other people's experiences instead of getting up/out and doing things for ourselves?

Later on, after Luke has been "broken" by the bosses (forced to labor to the point of physical exhaustion and beaten brutally in the process) and enters the sleeping quarters where all the prisoners (who sat and watched the breaking process) are gathered, he collapses. Not a single person went to him to help him out. They were disillusioned by the breaking of the high and mighty man they once esteemed as their hero. Luke was never a real person in their eyes; they invented a person who was invulnerable, a superhero that could never break. When he broke they became the selfish, brutal, despicable creatures men tend to be when they see good men fall. They were too weak (too smart?) to try to break out of prison themselves, to push the rule makers to the limit, to discover who they really could be, making them all the more happy to see strong people fall. It makes them feel good about themselves, even if they aren't truly happy (still locked up, never having attempted to get out in the open).

Failure to Communicate

During Luke's last escape attempt, Dragline can't help but come along with him. Dragline's as giddy as a school boy to see that Luke was "never" broken. But Luke corrects him and tells him he was as broke as anybody could have been. After Dragline starts planning all the world shaking he, Luke, and Koko are gonna do when they're all out Luke says that he's "done enough world shaking for a while." At this news Dragline doesn't know how to react, he begins to regret ever leaving the camp realizing that he only had a few years left if he would have stayed put. (The disillusionment sets in again.)

Luke approaches a church and decides to enter it and that it's time he has a talk with God. He wants to blame God (not angrily but questioningly) for his situation. Luke feels that God has things "fixed" against him and at the same time made him like he was, so how was he supposed to fit in? When does it all end? What does God have in store for him? What should he do now? Luke then gets on his knees to ask and concedes that he's a hard case and ends up supposing that he'll have to find his own way (not having received any communication from God).

This failure to communicate comes up a couple of times in the film, and is up there with some of the best known lines in cinematic history. There seems to be a lot of failed communication, a lot of "unwritten rules" that seem to catch people off guard left and right. You could argue that it wasn't God that was messing up the communication, but Luke. He never wanted to submit to any kind of authority, and he was constantly running away from it or flat out pushing back. Even Luke says "there ain't a whole lot worth listening to" (specifically referring to all the rules and regulation being put out). How many times do we say we want an answer but do nothing to make sure we are prepared to hear what we need to be told?

With regards to this movie review site, I hope we can communicate some of the insights we receive on the quality and moral value of films that we see. We in no way assume our ideas and interpretations are the only way to view the content of the films, but invite others to comment and help us mold our philosophy in a non-threatening way.

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