General Question

jlm11f's avatar

What makes Cool Hand Luke such an amazing movie?

Asked by jlm11f (12398points) May 20th, 2009

Ok, so I finally saw it. And I have to say, after all I was expecting, I was seriously underwhelmed. But since it is so well loved and popular, I obviously must be missing something integral to the movie. Perhaps we had a failure to communicate? Ok Ok, I’ll stop now :P

SPOILERS!!!!!!!! This is what I got from the movie: Man gets drunk and damages government property and gets 2 years jail time for it. On a side note, doesn’t 2 years seem kinda steep for what he did? Then he proceeds to show a never say die spirit with everything he does, including trying to escape a few times. Gets caught each time and abused more and more. Movie ends with him going to the hospital. Does he live? die? Does it matter? Is it cool that he made life so inconvenient for himself or didn’t plan his escapes better? Why was he even trying to escape? Why was he destroying the property in the first place? What “old score” was he trying to settle that he went to prison? I saw that movie and thought “wow, that guy has some psychological/mental problems” not “woot, what a role model!”

End rant. Bottom line: What do you think of this movie? What makes it so great in your eyes? Why is it a classic? Why do you think “United States Library of Congress deemed Cool Hand Luke to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry” (source)?

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28 Answers

ems's avatar

Because he’s got nothing and sometimes nothing is a cool hand.

eponymoushipster's avatar

it’s hard to explain. in some sense, i feel it’s more a “guy” movie.

The fact that he sticks to his guns, whatever happens, and doesn’t break down, that makes him a “cool hand”.

plus: boobies against glass.

syz's avatar

I though it was kind of grimy and unpleasant, myself. I’m not much of a fan. But then, I don’t like the “macho” factor. (I hate that crap were the good guy has the upper hand, but then throws away his weapon to make it a fair fight. Screw that.)

ems's avatar

Definitely boobies against glass. Double awesome.

I don’t really think he is meant to be a role model, but more of an anti-hero. Another thing I took from the movie is how minor his original offense is, and how severe his punishment was. But he sort of makes the best of it and everyone loves him for it.

And really you gotta admit there aren’t any other movies like it.

jlm11f's avatar

@ems – I don’t know about that. It reminded me of Shawshank Redemption a tad and I thought that movie was fantastic.
@eponymoushipster – Sticking to your guns is typically considered a good thing, but at that extreme, it looks foolish rather than heroic IMO. Maybe I should stop taking it so seriously, it’s just a movie after all ;)

peyton_farquhar's avatar

What we have heah is a… failure to commun’cate.

I think a lot of the fanfare has to do with the fact that a sex symbol is cast as the main role. It probably would not have received the attention it did if Newman had not played Luke.

But it does have some pretty memorable scenes and one liners. And it can be argued that it encapsulates the American spirit, or something.

wildpotato's avatar

What I love about the movie is that it draws out a feeling I have all too often: the hopeless frustration of having to obey the man when the man doesn’t even have respect for the justice of his own rule of law. It sometimes feels like they are succeeding in their goal to make the image of humanity, as Orwell’s evocation goes, a boot stamping on a face forever. Luke was a moth who threw himself into that flame. Try thinking of it like a Greek tragedy – it’s purpose is catharsis.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

The number of eggs he ate.

jlm11f's avatar

@wildpotato – Wait, what? Luke brought everything upon himself by first breaking the law and then constantly trying to violate his punishment. Where in the movie did they show “the man doesn’t even have respect for the justice of his own rule of law”? Again, that was in Shawshank, not really this movie. I don’t see how this was a tragedy…I only see one person doing wrong here. Man does something illegal, then tries to avoid just punishment for it repeatedly. Btw, welcome to Fluther!

wildpotato's avatar

* spoiler alert *

Thank you for the welcome! Luke’s escape and escape attempts were more acts of self-acknowledged futility than trying to avoid just punishment – at a certain point he stopped caring about his future. That point was when they locked him in solitary when his mother died. He was going along with the program before that. If he still cared after the cops did this, he would have kept behaving and waited out the two years.

But I was really talking about the end – Luke, the cops, and the viewer all know that the cops will kill Luke. The cops deliberately didn’t get him to a hospital after they shot him. They didn’t believe that they should be bound by the rule of the law they are so keen to uphold for others – god forbid Luke should cut the heads off parking meters, but they have the right to kill him if he decides to stop playing by their rules.

augustlan's avatar

Hmm. Well, it was released the year I was born. Does that count?

jlm11f's avatar

@wildpotato – Ah. Thank you for your explanation! I still fail to see the awesome-ness of the movie, but thanks to your answer, I do see another side to it. He didn’t really seem that close to his mother (in that one scene where they met), so it is surprising that her death had such a huge impact on him.

augustlan's avatar

@PnL It was 1967. It wasn’t cool for big strong men to be close to their mothers way back then. Or at least, they couldn’t appear to be close.

jlm11f's avatar

@augustlan – Haha, is that what 1967 was like? Silly men!

wildpotato's avatar

@PnL I agree, and I wouldn’t have thought it did have such an impact except that the way he acted changed so much after that happened. Also, something about the way that scene was shot gave me the feeling that it was the moment of no return.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

It had fighting, prison escape, egg eating contest, chase scene, vandalism, guns, music, death, and a funny talking “boss” who gets flustered into embarrassing himself. What’s not to like?

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

It was an iconic film for its time. 1967 is the year that Sgt. Pepper was released; it was the year of the “Summer of Love,” and the year I graduated from high school.

Luke and The Captain (Strother Martin, stellar performance) represent the sentiments of two generations. Luke is the uprising of the young and the disaffected. The Captain is the status quo, the guardian of order, Authority (with a capital A), and the epitome of who us hippies referred to as The Man. The film is symbolic of the clash between The Establishment and the Counterculture of the 1960s.

“What we have here is a failure to communicate” is the film’s tag line. It pretty much sums up how things were then.

jca's avatar

i read that Luke was a Christ symbol – self sacrificed. i saw the movie once, it made me kind of queasy, i found it suspenseful and sad.

fireside's avatar

Luke was more of an anti-hero, like Nicholson’s character in One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest. Although Ken Kesey intended JP McMurphy to be seen as the enlightened one, it came across differently in Milos Foreman’s film.

I never read Cool Hand Luke, but I suspect it was the same thing here. The counterculture hero fighting against the establishment is shown as a rebel and anti-hero.

But he was able to eat 50 eggs. That’s impressive, no?

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

@fireside , how true. The 1960s was the rise of the anti-hero, with Luke pretty much epitomizing the genre. We also had Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw in The Getaway, and who could forget Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?

jlm11f's avatar

@IchtheosaurusRex – GA, thanks! Your answer helped me get a better feel for that era.

@fireside @IchtheosaurusRex I haven’t seen any of those movies you listed so I can’t comment. Perhaps I need to add those to my movie list?

eponymoushipster's avatar

@PnL add The Sting to that list, too.

fireside's avatar

@PnL – Don’t forget about Easy Rider and a movie that Jack Nicholson directed titled The Trip starring Peter Fonda.

filmfann's avatar

It is a very quotable movie.
“What we have here is failure to communicate.”
“You’re my horse!”
“Shaking the tree, here, boss!”
40 plus years since that movie was made, and people remember the lines.

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

@PnL , yes, those movies are classics. Don’t bother with the remake of The Getaway though. Baldwin and Basinger should have been shot – in real life – for making it.

Jeruba's avatar

I saw it in the theater when it came out. It wasn’t viewed as a “guy” movie. Luke embodied a spirit of rebellion and resistance to authority that was very much in tune with the mood of youth at the time. Watch it with the question in mind: What must things have been like for this movie to have resonated so deeply with the young generation? That’s what was so awesome about it. It captured that mood.

never_knew's avatar

Several things that are critical in understanding this film.

But first, The Coen Brothers do a wonderful homage to Mr. Newman in “The Hudsucker Proxy.” Several scenes from CHL are repeated. “They’ll dock you” is the same as “night in the box.”
John Mellencamp uses several lines from the movie in his “Rain on the scarecrow” song.
“Callin it you job, old hoss, sure don’t make it.” “If you want me to I’ll say a prayer for your soul tonight.”
Guns and roses has Strother Martin’s quote on one of their songs.

The movie has an impact.

Some people have made similar points, but at the time the film was made (Kennedy had been assassinated four years earlier, with MLK and RFK to join him by the next year) There was incredible mistrust of the government, – civil rights, eve of the woman’s rights movement were becoming more vocal, everyone collectively felt it was us versus them society. And whether it was business or the gubment, you didn’t trust them.

The issue with Luke, (and you hear exposition that he was in the service but won a purple heart but was never promoted) is he didn’t care for society’s B.S. He abides by the rules in prison until he’s locked up (Told by the warden – it’s good for him) How many government institutions have told people (indians on reservations, women with lower wages, etc. that it’s good for them) and then decides, in his own words, “just a bunch of people making up rules.”

So he rebels, walks to his own beat and the others who tow the line admire him, want to be him, Until he’s beaten into submission and he becomes another beaten man like the others. So he redeems himself, escapes finally, knowing he’s going to die.

I also think the film will lose it’s luster to those under 40. Sans the Godfather film it probably has the most quotable line in film history. “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

jlm11f's avatar

@never_knew – Good answer. Thanks for your input and welcome to Fluther!

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