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What we've got here is (a) failure to communicate

MyWikiBiz, Author Your Legacy — Wednesday October 18, 2017
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Two close variants of this line are spoken in the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke. Nuances of accent, delivery, and intonation aside, they are as follows:

  1. "What we've got here is … failure to communicate." — spoken by "The Captain", the imperious prison warden played by Strother Martin, near the epitasis of the storyline.
  2. "What we've got here is a failure to communicate." — spoken by "Luke", the reprobate inmate played by Paul Newman near the catastrophe of the action.

The line is first delivered in a scene where Luke, having just been returned to the chain gang after a clever and daring but all too brief escape, mocks the despotic affectations of benevolence on the part of the Cap'n, The outraged Cap'n lashes out, hurling Luke into the culvert beside them on the roadway. Recovering his composure, he pronounces his summary judgment of the problem, that it can be nothing more than a matter of Luke failing to understand the one-way nature of the communication that is incumbent on his present demotion in social status.

The theme is recapitulated during the final action of the main plot. As evening falls, Luke's second escape from prison brings him to a roughhewn country church hall, where he seeks shelter and makes his last despairing attempt to communicate with the Maker who made him the way he is. Quickly surrounded by the flashing lights of police cars, and entreated to surrender by his adoptive sidekick, the character handled "Dragline" (George Kennedy), Luke goes to the window to — what?

  1. concede defeat
  2. size up the enemy
  3. taunt his captors one more time

— at any rate he speaks his rendition of the line, this time being a stark allusion to the ironic way that God has answered his plea, the posse picks (3), and they shoot him.