Cool Hand Luke


Word Count: 918

In Cool Hand Luke, the movie begins with
the word, VIOLATION, across the screen. The word is
from a parking meter and sets the tone for the entire movie.
Luke Jackson, the title character, is arrested for cutting off
the heads of the town’s parking meters while drunk, or in
legal terms, for destroying municipal property while under
the influence of alcohol. When asked why he cut the heads
off the parking meters, Luke answers, “You could say I
was settling an old score.” While it leaves the viewers
believing that he probably received a parking ticket at some
time in the past, no clues are given to what the old score
may have been. He is sentenced to two years in a road
prison, in a chain gang. His punishment did not fit the crime,
and today, such an act would probably result in time spent
in community service rather than a hard labor prison gang.
To further accentuate that his sentence is worse than his
crime, Luke Jackson dies at the end of his story. Luke is a
decorated veteran, yet left the military service just as he
went in, as a Private. This indicates that he had authority
problems while there. He received the Silver Star, Bronze
Star and a couple of Purple Hearts and that indicates that
he is brave and probably humanitarian, because the Silver
Star is usually given in recognition of a life-saving deed of
valor. That he was never promoted, or else promoted and
consequently demoted, (the story does not elaborate on the
details) indicates that his superiors, those who had the
authority to promote him, did not react well to his
achievements. For Luke, death represents ultimate
freedom. There is no doubt that he believes in God, in that
he talks to God several times throughout the movie, yet his
conversations are always more like arguments than prayers.
In one of the final scenes, the empty shell of a church
represents Luke’s relationship with God, and even the
emptiness in himself. Luke feels that God has never been
there for him. He tells God just before the end of the story
that God hasn’t ever dealt him a good hand. That military
authorities considered him a hero, decorating him with
medals, doesn’t make him a hero in his own eyes. Luke is a
tortured soul, in that he tells God that he doesn’t deserve
any good thing because he killed people in the war. Still,
Luke is a free spirit, true to himself, with no regard for the
rules and regulations of other human beings. The crime he is
arrested for is not one of violence toward any person, it is
simply a flaunting of his disdain for authority, which irritates
persons in authority more than anything. Luke’s death
made him a legend in his community of prisoners at the
chain gang. Dragline and Luke escaped together, yet
Dragline couldn’t live in prison without Luke, nor could he
live as a free man on his own. In Drag’s mind, Luke and he
are one person. When caught by the officials, he leads them
to Luke, and claims, “We got caught old buddy,” not ‘I got
caught please come back with me so that I won’t be
lonely.’ Luke is the boat pulling the dragline, and Dragline is
a representative of the whole community, the other
draglines. Dragline made Luke who he is in the community
and Luke gives Dragline and the others hope and life in
return. Dragline made Luke a leader in the community
when he fought Luke after Luke told him to shut up about
Lucille. While Luke is physically whipped, his spirit is never
defeated, and he gains the respect of Dragline and the
community with his determination. Luke further made a
believer out of his fellow prisoners, when he said he could
eat 50 eggs. Bets are on and despite personal discomfort
and pain, Luke keeps his word and wins the bet. At the
end of this scene, the fellows prisoners leave a bloated
Luke on a table, in the position of Christ on the cross, yet
Luke has a slight smile on his face because he won. His
community of worshippers betray him, too, when he is
beaten and thrown into the box when he is escapes the
second time. When Luke returns to the community, the
other prisoners turn their backs to him, and Luke tells them
that he is tired of them eating off of him. Luke is the
embodiment of their own rebellious desires which they are
too weak to act upon themselves. They don’t want him to
be