For Reel

Cool Hand Luke (1967)
July 18, 2012, 10:14 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Stuart Rosenberg

In its early-goings, Cool Hand Luke can be frustrating in its simplicity, with every sequence concluding with the recycled realization that Luke can’t be held down. It is roughly halfway through the film, however, when director Stuart Rosenberg shamelessly lays his cards on the table – after Newman has gorged on eggs, he lays back on a table, arms outstretched and feet crossed on top of each other. It’s the first time that Rosenberg wholly embraces the idea of Luke as a Christ figure, whose every action both raises the morale of his fellow prisoners and leads him to more severe mental and physical tortures. Contrarily to what one might expect, however, it appears that Luke comes to abhor the duty that’s been placed upon him. Just as Luke cannot escape from the chain gang for long, so too is he trapped in the role of leader by his own hero-worshipping disciples, whom he thanklessly suffers for only to be tossed aside the second he falters. The doubt of Willem Dafoe in The Last Temptation of Christ seems to reflect Newman’s performance – only Luke, unlike Christ, is content to stay in the escapist fantasy that he experiences during his crucifixion as opposed to fully embracing his martyrdom.

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