Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cool Hand Luke

the following is a guest post from my buddy Craig. i love to sit and talk with Craig and just pick his brain on many topics but there are a select few topics that i just know i can ask for his opinion and sit back to enjoy the ride. one of those topics is movies; particularly movies that speak out spiritually for those who are keen enough to see it. Craig is a keener. recently Craig has been the impetus behind our church-community's Jesus in our Living Room Film Fest and last night was the first night in what is certain to be a Fest indeed. when i heard that Cool Hand Luke was the opening flick to the Fest my first thought was, what does that have to do with Jesus? i've seen that movie ... and i don't think Jesus is mentioned in a good term once. Craig and Cool Hand Luke surprised me as i journeyed my way through an unexpected Jesus story.

Great books require repeated readings to really be appreciated - I read somewhere that if you want to understand a book you should read it seven times. I couldn't think of any books I have read that many times (except maybe, Cat in the Hat), but I do know of movies I have seen at least that many times.
Last night I watched Cool Hand Luke for maybe the 12th time (approximately). This is a movie where I know every scene, and a lot of the dialogue. And like a great book it continues to reveal things. Now, there are many essays and pieces of film criticism on the internet about the symbolism of this film (just google the title and Christian and you will see what I mean), so in this short post I am not going to name all the cross symbols, communion symbols, and assorted scriptures that may or may not be referred to (the screenwriters have consistently denied such allegorical claims). Rather I'd like to talk about "following."
Regardless of your religious bend, Cool Hand Luke's story is familiar. It is a story about a leader that rises, gathers followers, is eventually rejected, dies (sorry: spoiler), and the followers are left with only their stories. What struck me on this viewing was the needs of those followers, in this case the prisoners - an apt metaphor if there ever was one. They needed someone to rise above to show them the way. When Dragline (Luke's prison mate, in George Kennedy's best role of all time) asks, "Well, what are we going to do now?", I am reminded of Frodo saying he will take the ring, but he doesn't know the way. It is in our nature to look to leaders to show us the way - and we all need those leaders, from the weakest to the strongest personality types. Just as true, we will turn away and reject those leaders when they fall. Luke succumbs to the Boss - he cries out to not be hit anymore, and that his mind is right. It is a hard scene to watch, both because of Luke's pain, and because of the rejection of his followers - who we believe would react the same way to the beating down. Luke comes back to the bunkhouse, stripped of his humanity, physically and emotionally demoralized. His cry, "Where are you now?", is chilling.
I couldn't say what this taught me about myself, how this parable of a movie works on my soul (as I think the great movies do). But during Holy Week, as I ponder the life of a carpenter a couple of millennia ago, I find myself asking the world, and more importantly, myself, "Where are you now?"

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