Monday, August 15, 2011
Cool Hand Luke
Today I watched Cool Hand Luke, directed by Stuart Rosenberg in 1967, which I had somehow never seen before. I guess everyone I know loves it, but uh, never shared it with me. It was a one of my grandpa's favorite movies, which makes sense after I saw it. I really liked it, although I felt like I just read the whole film differently than other people I know. It seemed really weirdly and overtly allegorical, which is...something. I always had the impression that it had funny scenes in it, but I didn't really see any. I could just be over-emotional and actually reading the film totally wrong, though.
A quick and sort of bad summary. Luke Jackson is a prisoner in a rural labor prison, jailed after drunkenly smashing parking meters one night. Because he's new, the other inmates don't really respect him. However, Luke challenges authority and refuses to conform to prison life, and soon earns the admiration of the other men. Luke often tries to escape but is recaptured, and even after being beaten until he can barely move, he still tries to escape. As Ebert says, he can't win, but he can absorb punishment. Spoilers follow in my post, so stop reading if you haven't seen the film.
I guess I hesitate to call it a hopeful or uplifting film, which is the impression I got from others about it. I am probably more pessimistic, but I didn't really read it that way all the time. I mean, there is something hopeful and inspiring about someone who is committed to their own set of morals and ethics to the point where they will die for them. I guess I didn't see it as a film about rebellion, but one about martyrdom. The film could just speak to my own pessimism, but I often felt that Luke knew he couldn't win, but continued on anyway, as though he was willfully suffering (which he did in the film at times). Then, he dies to prove a point about how wrong things are, but to whom? To the prisoners, who will likely suffer the same fate or be broken, and who already know that things are wrong?
I felt pretty relieved that Ebert sees the film in a darker light, too. He writes a lot about the scene with the eggs - how it is often described as being funny or "crowd-pleasing" but it actually really disturbing. I found it sort of unsettling, they way that Luke suffers so willingly, how he has to force himself to consume them even though he clearly is struggling and sick from them. I'm glad he found that scene really uncomfortable, as well. Maybe because it's uncomfortable, it gets glossed over and labeled as something different? Masochism isn't really easy to accept or relate to for most people. Ramble ramble.
I don't think that any of this makes it a bad movie, though. I think it's interesting. I think it's actually more interesting as an extremely pessimistic movie than as an uplifting one. Since I struggled to see what point was proven at the end (as I said above), it's really fascinating and strange to think about why Luke does what he does in the film. What was his true motivation? I don't think it was simply to "not conform," since it's weird to think that you'd feel so strongly about that that you would die for it. I've been talking about this to several people (two of whom see it as a darker film) and I still can't articulate why Luke does what he does, because there are so many other nagging things that make it complicated. Was it his ego, as my one friend suggested? I'm skeptical, because Luke seemed so irritated at one point by the attention of the other prisoners. Did he really think he could win against the Captain? I wonder about this one, because I would assume that self-preservation would kick in after the first near-death beating. So was it for glory, or did he think that there would be some divine intervention? Ugh, probably not! I could keep going, but I won't. I've sufficiently confused myself. Man, it's too late to keep going on about this, since I've just talked myself and my friends into circles about it already all night.
I really loved the movie, and I loved it for it's pessimism. Paul Newman was so incredible in it, and Ebert is so right when he says that no other actor could have taken that sort of physical punishment. He was awesome in it, and was just perfect for the role. I could write a whole post just about how cool he is, but I thought my own weird messy thoughts were more interesting than another "Wow, Paul Newman rocks!" thing. We all know he rocks. The movie is great, and I'm so happy I watched it and was able to have a ton of interesting conversations about so many different subjects afterward. It was awesome to be able to have those discussions, and it's great when it's provoked by an awesome movie.
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on
Buy or rent it on Amazon