Blog Directory CineVerse: A natural-born world shaker

A natural-born world shaker

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Many film fans consider Cool Hand Luke to be the definitive, quintessential prison film to end all prison films. Admirers of The Shawshank Redemption might beg to differ. But most would agree that the former is an incarceration classic for the ages. CineVerse took a closer look at this movie last evening and came away with these conclusions:


Because its themes of nonconformity, anti establishment, protest against the man, the anti-hero, and distrust of power figures are timeless.
1967 was at the height of the Vietnam War and the younger generation’s growing unrest about our involvement in that conflict; additionally, the times were marked by race riots and increasing distrust of government and authority figures; Cool Hand Luke connected with younger audiences as well as older viewers who had enjoyed popular prison films from previous years.  
Its main message, What we’ve got here is failure to communicate, translates across all demographics, including older generations who feel like youth don’t listen as well, and younger generations who can appreciate the theme of disconnect with their elders.  
Today, this film is still enjoyed and appreciated by new generations, in large part because sympathy for nonconformists and naturally identifying with underdogs and iconoclasts never goes out of style.
Also, good prison movies are evergreen and timeless, especially if they have strong characters and gripping narratives.

Consider the main characters and their Biblical counterparts they are personifying: Luke is a Christ-like figure who endures great punishment and sacrifices himself for his followers; the prisoners are his disciples; Dragline is both a Peter and Judas figure; the guards are akin to the Romans, Jewish persecutors, and Philistines; Arletta is meant to evoke the Virgin Mary; the captain is a Pontius Pilate figure; and Boss Godfrey (think of his name) personifies a cold, authoritarian, vengeful God.
There are many scenes depicting Luke sufferings great hardship like a martyr, including the scene where he eats 50 eggs (representing the 50 prisoner souls he is trying to save) and then lays out on the table in a cross like position; and the scene where he keeps having to dig the same hole again and again, like Jesus having to carry his own cross.
The number on Luke’s shirt is 37, which makes the religious in the audience think of Luke 1:37, “For with God nothing shall be impossible.”
Following the scuffle with Dragline, we see the sun arcing behind Luke’s head, suggesting an aura around him.
The scene in and outside the church at the end, where Luke is talking to God, reminds us of the Garden of Gethsemane story in the Bible.  Luke is asking God to spare him and show him another way, just as Jesus did in the garden.
Luke is resurrected several times in the movie, including after eating the eggs, after he digs his own grave and crawls out of it, and after he is shot and later praised by his disciples.
Recall the scene where Luke inspires the other prisoners to complete the highway paving with relish and pride prior to the conclusion of the work day; this has been compared to Christ’s cursing of the Temple of Jerusalem and the conspiring of the leaders to punish him for that.
Notice how we never see Boss Godfrey’s eyes until Dragline knocks his glasses off; before this, Boss Godfrey is depicted as in omnipresent, all-seeing, angry and violent God, similar to how God is often shown in the Old Testament; with Luke’s death, the “New Testament” now begins, and God is shown in a different light.
At the end of the film, watch how Luke’s face is superimposed over the crossroads, which resemble a cross.
Consider the scene where the prisoners scoop up Luke’s rice so that he will not be punished any longer, making us think of the Last Supper and Jesus’ quote, “Take and eat, this is my body.”
Following his death, Dragline spreads the “gospel of Luke” to his fellow inmates, saying that Luke has done enough world shakin’ and now it’s their job to continue Luke’s work.

In addition to being a martyr, he is also a masochist, a glutton for punishment who simply cannot abide by the rules of the establishment and authority figures.
Roger Ebert suggested the following: “It is a point of pride to Luke that he hauls himself to his feet and refuses to admit defeat, and this, we discover, will be his method throughout the movie; he can’t win, but he can continue to absorb punishment indefinitely.” Ebert also said: “The physical suffering and danger are sickening, no less so than Luke’s punishment of being made to dig and fill in the same grave-shaped hole time and again…  Rarely has an important movie star suffered more, in a film wall-to-wall with physical punishment, psychological cruelty, hopelessness and equal parts of sadism and masochism.”
It’s interesting to ponder that Luke is an anti-hero, not a conventional hero or a rebel with a cause; he’s not trying to uphold truth, justice or the American way.
o He exudes all the classic characteristics of the anti-hero: a protagonist who has some characteristics that are opposite of the traditional hero; he’s antisocial, alienated, obnoxious, passive, and yet pitiful; the anti-hero tries to define his own values vs. those imposed by society.  
o Luke despises those who worship him; he’s a criminal; you want to like him, but he does things that are frustrating and antithetical of a hero; this anti-hero fails and falls from grace, only to redeem himself later.
Reviewer Rob Nixon wrote: “Luke has no particular agenda or set of beliefs that put him at odds with the rest of the world beyond his status, which remains unexplained other than he's simply one who doesn't ‘fit in.’ We're meant to accept him from the beginning as an iconic outsider and loner, and if that's not enough to root for him, the filmmakers stack the deck in his favor by portraying his jailers as almost unanimously sadistic and unsympathetic while portraying him in the most positive light and his fellow convicts as by and large a rather likable bunch.” In addition, Nixon suggested: “Today, Luke seems more a victim of his own self-ostracism, even something of a masochist.”
Think about the final images in the movie: Luke is dead, and the green light switches straight to red, with no yellow in between.  And the red is below the green, unlike a real traffic light.  This insinuates that Luke has turned authority upside down and made an impact on those around him.

Previous prison films like I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang, Stalag 17 and The Great Escape
Contemporary films from the sixties in which heroes are crushed when they play outside of society’s rules, including Bonnie and Clyde, and Easy Rider
Other movies where rebels cannot escape from past mistakes and must follow their natures, such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, From Here to Eternity, and A Clockwork Orange.
Anti-hero films also starring Newman, like The Hustler, Hud, and Hombre

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