Movies to Show My Son: Cool Hand Luke

Welcome to another installment of Movies to Show My Son. This is the blog series were I discuss movies I can’t way to show my son in the future. I’ll be covering my own personal experience with the movie, movie and life lessons I hope he will learn, and lastly my concerns about showing said film. This week’s film is Cool Hand Luke.

Personal Memories:

This is the first film in this series that was shown to me by my father. It was a somewhat impromptu event as I was searching our DVD shelves for a specific movie one day for a reason I cannot remember. Although it was against my personal beliefs our DVD collection was not alphabetized. Blasphemy I know! The benefit came one day when I came across the DVD of Cool Hand Luke.

At that time the far majority of films in our household fit into two categories. Either it was a Disney movie or a war movie. When something broke those barriers it immediately caught my attention. I took it out and I remember my dad saying something to the effect of, “Cool Hand Luke…Paul Newman…Great movie”.  My dad tends to be short and to the point. Something I did not inherit from him.

Watching it many of those pop culture ‘Ah ha!’ moments came over me. Famous quotes and scenes I heard outside of the film were finally put in context. What really amazed me was the performance of Paul Newman. Something I will get to in more detail later and in future articles. My dad then talked to me about him and his life which is pretty fascinating. I immediately became a fan of him and have been ever sense. Even today he is my all-time favorite actor.

Age to Show:

With its slow pace and heavy drama my thought would be around the teenage years. My guess is this will not be the first Paul Newman movie I show my son. Obviously he will no doubt love those going into this so seeing Paul Newman on the cover will be enough to get him interested.

Movie Lessons:

With Cool Hand Luke my son can see how a movie can make you root for someone who may not even root for them self.  When people hear the phrase, ‘Rebel without a Cause’, they most likely think of someone like James Dean. For me the ultimate rebel for rebellion sake is good old Cool Hand Luke.

From the opening scene Luke is action without reason. Unlike other jail films Luke is not wrongly convicted. This film is not trying to elicit empathy by portraying Luke as someone who is wrongfully imprisoned. What my son can learn is how a quality script can create a character with deep faults that oozes sympathy. In reality we should want the criminals to loose and the police officers to win. Film creates its own reality to show heroes are not all made from the same mold.

Luke fits the term antihero in every sense of the word. Not only are his actions morally questionable he actively rejects any idea of being idolized. Today the term antihero tends to be used for a character like The Punisher where his ultimate goals are moral but actions are immoral. In a way it has just become a fancy term for a hero that kills people.

With Cool Hand Luke my son can see antiheroes can be much more complicated than that. He can see how an antagonist’s journey can be as much internal as it external. How film can alter morality by shifting perception not just changing the way a character acts. By the end of the film Luke is sill committing crimes, yet we as an audience empathize with him in a way we didn’t when the film opened. We can dissect the reasoning our feelings towards him have changed, how our perception has shifted, and how the world around Luke informed us about who he is as a person.

Life Lessons:

“Sometimes nuthin’ can be a real cool hand.” The quote landed Luke his infamous nickname and within itself provides its own life lessons. On the forefront you have the impact of self-confidence. In the film Luke bets his way to a poker win despite the fact his actual cards are horrible. The question is was Luke’s wiliness to press his luck due to his desire to win or his addiction to losing?

This shows how humans can be their own worst enemies. How without meaning or purpose we can destroy ourselves and everything around us. With that the meaning we eventually find can come from a very unexpected source and location. Luke found a home and family in jail. Now let’s hope the lesson my son takes away isn’t, “I really need to go to jail”, but rather how life not going our way can often be in our benefit in the long run. The key is what you do with what you are given. Sometimes you need to make something out of nothing.

“Nah – calling it your job don’t make it right, Boss.” I have been lucky enough in my life to be in a position of authority. Never have I been a police officer but being a ‘boss’ in general comes with its own responsibility. What this film shows is there is a major difference between having the right and being right. Even when it comes to prisoners, people who have broken the rules of society in such strong ways they have been jailed, there is still limits that should not be crossed.

I have had to hire a large amount of people throughout my professional career. What I have found is you can find out a lot about a person long before they ever get into the interview room. How a person interacts with the front desk or even janitorial staff can send red flags if any disrespect is shown. My hope is my son sees the importance of character.  The way you treat people you have no obligation to respect says a lot about your true self. It is one thing to play the role of the righteous man. It is another thing to live it.


Cool Hand Luke is a classic film that feels like a classic film. In my eyes it holds up, but my eyes are getting older with each passing day. Will the eyes of the newest generation feel the same way? The pacing is methodical, the drama is heavy, and there is a great absence of action. Some teenagers may find it extremely boring and be turned off completely to films from this era.

The only other concern is regarding a specific scene. For those who have not seen the film it involves a women washing a car in a way that would be described as provocative even for today’s standards. I could not imagine the uproar it caused when this was first released. While it is not enough to make me rethink watching this film, I could only imagine how quiet the room could get during this specific sequence. One benefit though is it works as a great segway to the infamous ‘talk’. Although it does open a risk it will sour his feelings towards this movie as it will always make him associate Cool Hand Luke with one of the most awkward moments in all of our lives.


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Dan Clark

A fan of all things comics, movies, books, and whatever else I can find that pass the time. Twitter: @DXO_Dan Instagram: Comic_concierge

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