Some weekend fun with films
An image from Cool Hand Luke - the egg eating contest. From News of the Boston Becks.
I watched Cool Hand Luke last night on the classic film list. I had never seen it, though it is a movie that guys used to talk about a lot. As I watched, I was thinking what makes this a special treat for men? After all, it is about criminals working in a chain gang. The story line about their daily routine gives new meaning to the word “boring”. They live in a boring little shack. They get up early and do boring work all day, clearing roadside brush. Then they are taken back to the shack where they wash, eat boring food and go to bed early in a dorm room. Ho hum.
So what really happens in the movie? What gives it its interest, aside from boot camp masochism? The story line mostly is about Luke. He is aloof from the rest and ornery. That is why he ended up in the chain gang in the first place. For cutting off the tops of parking meters. That was a declaration of orneriness. A bit like my cat who claws at the wallpaper when she wants to get my attention.
Ok. I should give Luke some credit here. He is more interesting to watch than my cat. He has a certain readiness to do things that the others wouldn’t dare try. He demonstrates this repeatedly. By bluffing a hand in poker, by continuing the fight with the bully even after he is beaten up, by eating 50 eggs in an hour on a bet, and by trying to escape — three times. He inspires others by this readiness to act, even as he remains himself obviously uninspired by the group. In the end, it’s an attitude. A pose — like Karl Lagerfeld, a poseur? Here is an image of Karl, for comparison purposes (from Samantha I am).
Ok. Back to the movie. Is Luke’s pose that of leadership? It is almost leadership, but Luke rejects any responsibility for the group. He is too cool for that. In fact, Luke seems to want only to be cool. Thus, perhaps the title “cool” hand Luke. Hmmmm …. Luke and Karl do have something in common, n’est ce pas?
Cool has become such a powerful symbol over the years, perhaps we should take Luke’s declaration of “coolness” seriously. Where does it lead? Well, one thing should be noted. It is not about results. This is where Karl’s sense of cool is different. Karl is very successful at what he does, whereas Luke fails miserably. He tries mightily, but he is unable to escape the authorities who pursue him. Worse still, his fight with authority ends in his own demise. Moreover, it is an utterly pointless exercise. There is nothing to escape to (no girl, family or even pet cat). And the authorities do look rather like they know what they are doing. Add to that, Luke is repeatedly warned that further attempts to escape would lead progressively to more severe punishment. Yet he keeps at it. He is warned that he would be shot if he tried a third time. He does it anyway. Apparently that is “cool” too. Errr …. to be honest, I’m not sure I get that part.
So we need to ask, why ignore the warnings? Why was it such a big deal? In fact, it was not a big deal at all at first. At first, Luke was content to follow the rules of confinement. He was a model prisoner and had almost served his term. But then Luke suffers an injustice from the system. He is put in isolation for a few days after his mother dies. The authorities have a reason to put him there, but it is an obviously stupid one. To prevent him from trying to escape to attend the funeral. That gives Luke an excuse to put on a show for the group that he previously disdained (but secretly posed for?). To rebel, and to continue rebelling as a mindless obsession. To do what had been prohibited. This is apparently very cool. And very stupid, I might add. But perhaps that is part of being cool too. We might call it the price for achieving ultimate coolness.
In the end, Luke seems to acknowledge that it was stupid too. He asks God what he should have done, and what to do, and apparently the response is “F… off.” Thus, the viewer is left with the impression that Luke had no choice but to be ornery, to show off, to be obsessed, and then to suffer the consequences. It was his fate. Sorry. I didn’t buy that part of the film’s message. Cool or not, in the end, I think Luke was an idiot.
Hmmm … then perhaps Lagerfeld is the flip side of the “cool” coin? Cool, but not so stupid? I suspect that this thought might trouble some of the guys.
FOLLOW - From the movie Eilzabeth - “(Men) must be able to touch the divine here on earth.”