Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"Cool Hand Luke" (1967) - Movie Review

“Cool Hand Luke” is a statement on the social system and the frustration developing for free spirits. Here it is Lucas (Paul Newman) a man with no care in the world and light as a feather takes life as it comes. We see him drunk taking off the parking meters from its stand and later when the Captain (Strother Martin) asks him why he did that, he tells “Small town, not much to do in the evenin’”. A man in his own world and not beating himself to find answers because he has no questions, no worries and literally suits the line from U2’s song “Stuck in a moment” which is “There is nothing you can throw at me that I haven’t really heard.”

The famous line of “What we have is a failure to communicate” comes from the most wrongful man to talk about that, the Captain. When the prison is shown, it is not even the psychopathic jails I have seen in the films. It has a routine and the guards who make sure the work is done and the order is kept. Yet Luke sees that system which he had lived in the outer society of freedom per se has been trimmed off to fit. Not much does he see the variance in it but it is more to do about him than the sociology of his surrounding. He does not expect any one to understand or does he expects friendship. He just is Luke, simply put.

He throws swings on the air tired and broken in a fight match with his fellow prisoner Drag (George Kennedy) who later would admire and idolize Luke along with all the other inmates. He gives the tiny bit of last thing in him to whatever is in front of him. He is an epitome of endurance. He is diligent in his work and the most annoying thing about him for the Captain and guards would be his smile. He slips of that carefree smile which hurts and ridicules them. What does this man possess that makes him accept this prison which no one wants to be in? But Luke has a plan of his own and why he escapes would be the same thing of why he unscrewed the parking meters. It is a part of his instincts and that is all there to it.

The film is a test of endurance, tolerance and hopes. Adding to the numerous references to the Christian symbolisms, it can be looked upon both as theistic and atheistic arguments. Luke does not believe in god which becomes one of the agenda for his guards to teach a lesson to. He does not advocate his philosophy to others rather he takes one minute at a time and relishes it. He is the man who has everything in heart’s content and nothing when shook hard enough for evidence of society and its existence of norm.

But he would break off to an insurmountable pain of physical labour and humiliation in the later part of the movie. His inmates would disown him when their super hero dissolves into dirt and submits to the system. The behavioral pattern of them is another representation of the living world looking up and creating an expectation out of the heroes they barely know. It explains the quest for belief in their god personality to prove that he/she can do it and it is real. It makes them feel real and it feeds them the hope to look for a better tomorrow.

“Cool Hand Luke” in its first run appeals the social commentary it has but I did not fall in love with Luke. I guess I saw him what he would have wished to see from others. Let him be. Let him be for what he is. Nothing to be ashamed and nothing to be proud of. Nothing to expect and nothing to hope. Nothing at all and as he says “Sometimes nothing can be a pretty cool hand” from where he gets his nick. How positively does Luke make it sound of all these statements of dropping off everything including the hope?

You got to have the smile of Paul Newman to pass Luke. He dictates Luke as any one would wish for to have that fact of life. I have seen young Newman only in this film while a mid thirty fellow in “The Verdict”. In that he was an alcoholic given up on everything and gathers up for a shot on himself and the long dusted justice he had been fighting for. Here he is the film and he makes it his.

As Randale McMurphy in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, Luke becomes that angelic person to provide the hope and crush it too. Director Stuart Rosenberg takes the costly aerial shots when the magnanimous land holding these people needs to be shown for the vastness it has and which it has been denied for these people. In times of late sixties to give a classic indie styled picture would have been a taboo. Let us not get fooled by the brilliant photography to gauge its estimate because the filming perimeter is limited as it concentrates on the small camp. Majority of the film runs in the closed sets of prison dorm.

“Cool Hand Luke” might not touch for some and might move immensely for others. For me, I fell in the former surprisingly but only because of the detachment Luke itself creates around himself. We are put as an inmate in grabbing his attention and become a buddy of him as Drag desperately becomes and in fact campaigns for his dare devil stunts. I remember couple of friends like Luke who were not popular but simply there for a lightness very much needed in a system. Those people move along and as the system swallows them, they become one of us and soon they are devoid of that charm. The thing is they do not care about it either because deep inside they are relishing their nothingness in manner we can only hope to see.

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