“…I have no idea what it means, but I liked it.”
I had never seen Cool Hand Luke, but last night that was all I wanted to do. I was familiar with Cool Hand Luke in a very passive way, only picking up what was constantly referenced in pop-culture. That means the only thing I truly knew about Cool Hand Luke was that he eats 50 eggs. Maybe that’s why I wanted to watch it. Either way, Cool Hand Luke is about a work prison and one man who gets sent there and inspires the other inmates. I think. I’m not so sure what this movie is about, but we’ll get to that.
Cool Hand Luke as a movie was pretty good. It wasn’t perfect, but I did enjoy my time watching it. I found the performances to be pretty great, and the story itself was interesting. Where I ran into a few problems was the pacing of the movie. It felt to me that Cool Hand Luke was constantly either running out of time or had time to spare. This is made more apparent after the film’s halfway mark when any scene could act as the film’s ending. But looking back on it I did enjoy Cool Hand Luke. To me it’s not a movie that will exist as a whole in my memory, but as certain scenes. I don’t see myself ever thinking favourably about the entire movie and deciding to watch it, but instead remembering things like the egg scene or the road paving scene and basing any rewatch decision off of those.
Now to get into the nitty gritty I loved the character of Luke. To me this character, wonderfully portrayed by Paul Newman, is the personification of the id; the mind’s impulsive nature. Luke doesn’t do anything that Luke doesn’t want to do, and what Luke does want to do doesn’t always make the most sense. It’s almost as though he’s grasping for control of his life, and therefore will make random decisions just to try and convince himself that he is the only one pulling the strings. Although maybe I’m projecting on that last point. And this is why the inmates flock to him and almost worship him in a sense. They envy his carefree attitude and ability to make the best out of any situation, but this is kind of where the movie falls apart for me.
When I think back to Cool Hand Luke I cannot pinpoint a message. I’m still not sure what the movie was trying to say, but I’m convinced that it was trying to say something. It was almost as though the focus of the film’s story kept changing, alternating between possibilities and imagery that will confuse film majors for years to come. None of these possible story meanings were boring, but there were far too many of them. Was the film about Luke being broken by the prison? In that case, what did Luke do to them? It seemed as though the guards liked him just as much as the inmates. Or was the film about Luke being a hero to the prisoners? In that case why was there so much focus on Luke as an individual? And that’s not even beginning to talk about all of the religious imagery and themes throughout the film. Did they play into the film’s message?
Cool Hand Luke obviously has a lot going on, and while that did lessen my enjoyment in a sense I can respect it and find joy in some of the individual scenes. In other words I have no idea what it means, but I liked it.
I give Cool Hand Luke a B