If for no other reason than that Paul Newman portrays the kind of larger-than-life stoic that a generation of Americans once aspired to emulate,i Cool Hand Lukeii is widely considered to be a classic of American cinematography.iii I can’t say this is an unwarranted assessment either : the characters are believable and their theatrical ranges are delightful to watch.
The film portrays a simpler era in US historyiv : an era when the prison boss was sovereign and could arbitrarily exact his will, even if he sometimes had to dress up his will as “just doing his job.”v The story pits the once firm-handed state of Floridavi against the protagonist, a military veteran who, late one night while deep in the sauce, thought it wise to decapitate a couple dozen of parking meters in his hometown.
The two forces are in constant tension, with Luke relentlessly seeking to undermine and overcome the penal strictures of the chain gang life by manufacturing his own freedom wherever and whenever he sees an opening. This includes, but is not limited to, everything from working harder than the social conventions warrant,vii escape (and being recaptured), and consuming 50 eggs in an hour.
Newman’s character is at once crafty, bull-headed, reserved, entertaining, unpredictable and prizes honour above all else – and he’ll be damned if he’s kept down by a bunch of uniforms “just doing their job.” He’s very much the type of rebel that America feels it needs, then as now. Though we might imagine that two generations of apathy and narcissism separate that reality from this reality, Luke was as much a fiction in the mid-60’s as he is today. He’s a self-sacrificing superhuman, quite explicitly in the Christian vein and with all the literary embellishments implied thereby. He’s a device, if an effective one.
Just as it is for Cool Hand Luke, Son of God, the salvation that the US seeks is in the after-life. So whaddya say we give it to ‘em ? I mean, if the most famous line in the film doesn’t make you think of USGavin’s death by a thousand derps, I don’t know what will.
Boss : What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach. So you get what we had here last week, which is the way he wants it… well, he gets it. I don’t like it any more than you men.
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- Now they aspire to emulate, I dunno, little girls or something. [↩]
- Directed by Stuart Rosenberg, produced by Gordon Carroll, 1967. [↩]
- Y’know, from back in the days when such a thing existed or could exist. [↩]
- A related point from the ongoing “To worry or not to worry about the USG’s secret abilities” debate between Mircea and Stan :
mircea_popescu: But think for a moment through it. So, in a country where Petreus can’t have fun with an ugly stupid old whore, there still exist these people who can do outrageous things. Clinton ejaculating on some fat broad is not outrageous, sparked an outrage. But these folk somehow get away with it. Right ?
ascii_field: Outrageous things such as lowering a general into pederasty, for example.
mircea_popescu: He did that himself. The BitInstant schmuck* did it himself also. They did it themselves, by doing what you propose is “unavoidable”. Suppose Petreus didn’t go down for it, went on a Snowden tour. What then ?
*: ascii_field Sorta gets what mircea_popescu meant here.
ascii_field: That’ll be hilarious!
mircea_popescu: The DoD accuses him so and so. He’s all over Al Jazeera explaining what a poopyhead Obama is. Who wins the next election ? Jeb Bush ?
ascii_field: Pulling a Grigorenko.**
mircea_popescu: What’s the cost to the elite ? What, they disappear them ?
mircea_popescu: Costs EVEN MORE.
ascii_field: Like the other Snowden. Unless he hides in Putin’s house, he’ll be disappeared for less than a White House dinner costs.
mircea_popescu: Now, granted, a transhumanist in the audience aged about 11 and with an education consisting mostly of Harry Potter books may think himself so important that this is a bad deal. I don’t happen to share that view.
ascii_field: Which is a bad deal, and for whom ?
*: ascii_field Confused
mircea_popescu: You’re miscalculating costs. Take an example further away, may help. So Cristina*** ordered the death of a prosecutor that was going to put her in jail. What was the cost of this ? There’s three working on it now. So the cost was, superficially, problem x3.
ascii_field: And she is closer to the jail?
mircea_popescu: Plus, everything else, starting with the press and ending with… who the fuck wants to talk to her now ? Kim ?
ascii_field: Or 3 pliant ones
mircea_popescu: I doubt anyone seriously believes she moves into anything but a jail cell once term ends. But in any case, her negotiating basis changed, and so now the victory of the opposition is incontrovertible. A year ago it was at best dubious. Costs, baby. Nothing’s more expensive than action, especially when you’re in a swamp. And all society’s a swamp. Your model worked fine in a world of lumberjacks and church bell towers a day’s walk away from each other. That world doesn’t exist, most soldiers die of ricochet.
ascii_field: They died of ricochet (well, shrapnel) in 1915. Just as now.
mircea_popescu: But not in 1600. Your model’s anchored in an older time, a quieter time. A simpler time.
*Charlie Shrem, the guy who signed the shoe.
**Pyotr Grigoryevich Grigorenko (1907 – 1987) : Major General in the USSR known for his criticism of Nikita Kruschev’s policies.
***Cristina Elisabet Fernández de Kirchner is the current President of Argentina.
Boss : Sorry, Luke. I’m just doing my job. You gotta appreciate that.
Luke: Nah – calling it your job don’t make it right, Boss.
- Before it became the cruise ship port and retirement home that it is today. [↩]
- If you’ve ever worked for a large organisation, as most victims of centralised socialism have, you’ll fully appreciate how gobsmackingly remarkable this is. [↩]