This movie was introduced to me as the “quintessential guys movie” and I after watching, I can see it. Cool Hand Luke is a story about a man who really doesn’t fit in, and what happens when the world tries to force him to fit in a box. Most of the way through the film I thought it was a fun prison movie, I am a fan of the genre in-general (I do love Shawshank Redemption) but towards the end it really hits you with its greatness. A man can fight all he wants, but in the end, the great powers-that-be will always win. And sometimes the only real freedom someone like Luke can have, is a dark and eternal one.
Before watching this movie I had never seen Paul Newman. I knew him by reputation but never actually seen a movie he had starred in. Part of me thinks thizs experience was for the better. He could literally be anyone. There wasn’t facial recognition; nothing in the back of my mind associated him to something else (this tends to happen a lot with modern movie stars.) I got to see myself, or a version of myself, in the main character. Luke represents our inner rebels. Not the cartoonish over exaggerated ones angry at the world, but the one that cracks jokes and talks shit to anyone that thinks they have life figured out. Luke walks through most of the movie thinking authority is an illusion. All of us on some level see the that society doesn’t make a single lick of sense, and he doesn’t try to fit into the fake reality everyone tells themselves is real.
This film is a lot of fun, all things considered. Luke goes to jail for cutting the heads off of parking meters. I started thinking there was a rhyme or reason to it, but there wasn’t. The movie introduces a colorful cast of guards and prisoners so I assumed he went to jail on purpose with a score to settle or a friend to break out… but there wasn’t any of that either. The plot, much like real life, just isn’t that elaborate. Prison, at least back in the 60’s, was just men not being allowed to leave or make choices. They worked, showered, ate, and slept where and when they were told. Being locked up is just a matter of passing time. This movie made it look a little fun, especially with banjos, car washes, and the occasional egg eating contest. It was a fun movie at first but then I saw what solidifies it as a classic.
The main character moves through life freely. Luke says it himself, he doesn’t think about his actions, he just does them. When a man tries to control his life, or the lives of others, there is friction, and disasters happen. The warden and guards of the prison have no real power, nothing they have earned. Even the prisoners, specifically Dragline (played by George Kennedy) thinks he has power as a prisoner. Luke, just being himself, slowly shows them all how ridiculous of a concept that is, and it earns him a lot of respect throughout the way. That is until his mother dies. The fun and games of the movie end and the raw and real weight of power falls on Luke.
Make plans and God will laugh. Like I said, Luke represents the rebellious side in every man. The type of us that doesn’t want to jump when we are told, wants to eat whatever we want, and wants to spit in the face of The Man. And like all of us, he realizes a life-like that is temporary at best. The power the guards have may not have been earned but it is power none-the-less. When Luke thinks he has bested The Law, they break him. Towards the very end of the movie there is a sliver of hope, at this point all I wanted was for Luke to find the freedom he so desperately deserved. But that isn’t how it works. Even if you can beat The Law, beat the rules that society has put together, there still is the almighty and powerful.
The man upstairs demands you obey regardless of the fact he refuses to acknowledge you. That is a lot of weight. Luke can’t fit in with the army, he can’t fit in with society, he can’t fit in as a prisoner, and he can’t even be a friend. The movie ends with a man realizing that freedom is the hardest achievement anyone can strive for, and for Luke, he only has one last choice to make to obtain it. He dies with a smile on his face because he choose his outcome. No one, not even God, could rob that from him.
This is a sad movie, but at the same time inspirational. We all are dealt a rough hand in this world, some worse than others. I don’t know anyone as cool as Luke, and I doubt I ever will. He is a rare breed, even in the world of fictional characters. He plays his bad hand like a champ. At the very least, this movie has taught me somethingthing. Sometimes it might feel like you have nothing. But, well, sometimes nothing can be a really cool hand.
Movie watched on the projector by: Troy Smith