Penal Lights

September 21, 2007 at 1:16 am 2 comments

What we’ve got is a failure to communicate. Naturally, otherwise there’s no need to use force. Sometimes nothing is a pretty cool hand. True, but it’s also an empty hand–or rather, a hand with only one card.

Cool Hand Luke is an exercise in American eschatology. Paul Newman‘s eggshell pieta sans Mary proffers salvation as smile, a bright quiet riposte to the “necessity” of force. You can break the man, put him in a box, or on a cross. But the smile is public. It means hope and perseverance. That is another way of saying that it means life. This is the body–a wonderful thing. But that damn smile–that’s something else.

So far so good. But why American? What’s American in it? Providence. Luke smiles because he doesn’t know what else to do. His barn-bound speech with God asks for a better hand–but quickly changes to chuckle, as if to say, “Right. Nothing. Well that’s one on me.” Luke’s cool hand is on loan. And he’s cool with that.

It’s the other prisoners, the other “sinners” who need his card, who never read his “nothing” as such. Luke’s death is not beside the point. It is the point that makes general a failure to communicate. The breakable party quits the scene, unbroken. At least, publicly. And the film closes with the chain-gang at a cross-roads. If redemption is not yet arrived, it is revealed, and that is all we can ask, or trust–because faith is at stake. Luke’s halogen ain’t halcyon, ain’t nostalgia: it’s divine pluck.

But he’d just shrug about that. Sometimes nothing is a pretty cool hand.


Entry filed under: Cool Hand Luke, Film, movie, Paul Newman, thurs afternoon.

Pirates and Emperors Not a sea change, exactly…

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. anaj  |  September 21, 2007 at 9:45 pm

    A truly wonderful movie. And yet the tasks in which he emerges triumphant – nobody else could eat 50 eggs. Oh, la masculinité.

  • 2. skunkcabbage  |  September 22, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    Ha, yes! I’d forgotten how delightful that scene is until this recent viewing. Raccoon and I figured at best we might be able to each eat 20 eggs in an hour. Not even close.

    Now if they were k’s deviled eggs, I’d put that number a little higher.


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