Cool Hand Bob

By Larry Fyffe

Romantic writers, like Blake, react against the views expressed by those in the deistic Age of the Enlightenment (reason and science be the best path to follow in search for a better world) because the ridding of the old aristocrats leads to the triumph of a “new aristocracy” with their dark “Satanic mills”.

Realist writers, under the influence of Marx, focus on the plight of the working class under the capitalist system. Naturalist writers, under the influence of Darwin, on heredity and environment. Surrealists, under the influence of Freud, look to the role played by the subconscious.

Ayn Rand shrugs, and with her Objectivism that’s influenced by Nietzsche’s no-afterlife anti-altruism, reconciles Romanticism and Realism in her vision of ‘laissez-faire’ capitalism as an ideal model for production of goods; even an object of sexual ‘love’ is produced by the self-interest of a strong individualist. Alas, the ideal is despoiled by the ‘statism’ of liberals, feminists, fascists, and socialists.

The movie ‘Cool Hand Luke (based on a novel by Donn Pearce) with its final shot of two roads in an image of a cross, takes Rand, and her predecessors, to task – where does all this put God and Jesus?

Luke gambles, and gets his name by bluffing when the other players throw in their hands while playing a game of five card stud:

"Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand."
(Lukas Jackson: Cool Hand Luke)

His prisoner number is 37 in a chain gang overseen by the sadistic ‘Captain’, an allusion to:

For with God nothing shall be impossible
(Luke 1:37)

The Captain makes Luke suffer dearly for his masochistic he-man refusal to follow the commandants of established authority; given the odds of winning, rebellious Luke ignores the fact that he’s going to lose, sooner or later.

Looking upward, he complains:

"You ain't dealt me no cards in a long time. It's beginning to look like you got things fixed so I can't never win out."
(Lukas Jackson: Cool Hand Luke)

The film smacks of a deistical, if not an outright Existentialist, allegory – Luke as Jesus Christ:

And at the ninth hour, Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying ....
"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
(Mark 15:34)

In the lyrics below, singer/songwriter Bob Dylan puts on the mask of actor Paul Newman who plays the role of the unrelenting anti-establishment, anti-hero Luke:

The same way I'll leave here
Will be the same way that I came
I gotta a restless fever
Burnin' in my brain
(Bob Dylan: If You Ever Go To Houston)

An allusion to the description of Luke’s heroic but rebellious stint in the army:

"Then came out the same way you went in."
(The Captain: Cool Hand Luke)

Which, in turn, looks back to the Holy Bible:

This same Jesus, which is taken from you into heaven
Shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven
(Acts 1:11)

Luke’s memory is kept alive after the Captain kills him; the toughest member of the chain gang, played by actor George Kennedy, describes Luke’s spirit of resistence in terms rather sexual in nature:

"Oh, Luke, you wild beautiful thing!
You crazy handful of nothing!"
(Dragline: Cool Hand Luke)

On observing a sexy female temptress who teases the chain gang, Kennedy utters the following words:

"Hey Lord, whatever I done, don't strike me blind for another
couple of minutes."
(Dragline: Cool Hand Luke)

Bob Dylan throws Ayn Rand’s Objectivism out the window, and gambles on the Romantic Jack of Hearts:

Some people will offer you their hand, and some won't
Last night I knew you, tonight I don't
I need something strong to distract my mind
I'm gonna look at you 'til my eyes go blind
(Bob Dylan: Mississippi)

At the same time, the singer/songwriter, unlike beautiful loser Luke, is Realistic enough to know he’ll eventually lose out to the Ace of Spades:

I've been walking down forty miles of bad road
If the Bible's right, the world will explode
I've been trying to get as far away from myself as I can
Some things are too hot to touch
The human mind can only stand so much
You can't win with a losing hand
(Bob Dylan: Things Have Changed)

What else is on the site

You’ll find an index to our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.

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And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews.

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