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Friday, March 2, 2012

The Big Lebowski

Truly the most valiant hero of recent times
The Big Lebowski is a cult film from the Coen Brothers that seeks to subvert genres and even the basic narrative characters. The protagonist is a lazy, unemployed dude who seeks nothing more in life than to bowl, and the primary antagonist appears to be a rich philanthropist. By the end of the film all the roles are subverted and the crazy pissed off Vietnam vet turns out to have been right for most of the film. It's very Shakespearean as well, dealing with the issues of mistaken identity, love, and written in such an eloquent way, despite being incredibly crude. The film is not quite so preordained as one of Kubrick's but it is deliberate in its own very unique way, without being obviously planned.

The film is also one of the funniest things I've ever seen, with nearly every scene having at least one hilarious line, and such deadpan delivery by some of the characters, especially the Dude but also Walter makes it something truly great in terms of comedies. Its ending could be compared to Chinatown in terms of success for the main character, but how he views life is so different that everyone leaves the theater or whatever feeling satisfied, because the Dude abides. The entire story is told by an odd narrator, telling the tale in the style of a Western, and looking straight out of Fistful of Dollars, he marches on the scene at the beginning, middle, and end and meets with the Dude to tell him that it'll be all right, and the Dude reaffirms this belief with his aggressive nonchalantness.

The film subverts typical expectations with the character of the Dude, who is effectively a  non-entity in terms of moving the plot along. Walter controls him much of the time, and he accomplishes very little by himself just as he has little control over his life. He does go to the big Lebowski about his rug, but from then on follows either the big Lebowski, his special lady friend, or Walter into the various challenges he faces. Throughout all of this though a detective following him believes him to be some sort of Batman character, uncovering everything and playing the sides like a violin. It is because of his non-action and screwing around that a plot is unveiled, but nothing is or can be done about it, resulting in some very pissed off nihilists, some scattered ashes, and a million dollars stolen from a charity, what fun.
Nihilism logo
So yes the plot begins with the Dude, whose real name is Jeffrey Lebowski, well it begins with his rug getting pissed on, then the rug soilers realize he is not quite the millionaire they are looking for, and head off to find a more appropriate pissing place. Then the Dude goes bowling, as he always does. Though actually, despite the multitude of times he is seen sitting at the bowling alley drinking beer and talking, he is never seen doing the act of bowling, unlike Steve Buscemi, who is seen bowling strikes several times, then he only gets 9 and dies out of shame. Bowling here could be pretty much any activity, it could be golfing, it could be tennis, but in terms of least effort bowling simply comes out on top, so is the Dude's sport of passion, or lack thereof.

The Dude is more than simply a man though, he is a symbol of a philosophy. There have been religions made around him, and his phrase 'The Dude abides' which has become legendary amongst cult move watchers. Again comparisons to Batman as he becomes more than just a man because of his actions and philosophy. The Dude is also a sort of anti-Batman, someone who so doggedly does nothing that he actually manages to do everything. In the end he is nothing but the Dude, and demonstrates this all throughout his stay in the film, as a point of view character who knows nothing about what is going on until it is far too late.

In the end the film seeks to enlighten and tell a classic story, and succeeds admirably, just as it succeeds as a comedic feature, though it has a fairly tragic ending, like the best of Shakespeare's comedies. Is the Dude mistreated because of his appearance and place in life just like Shylock? Is he doomed to a life of loneliness like poor Malvolio, is he a doomed clown? The Dude will live on through his thinkings, just as the film will live on through its fans and its vision to show the funny side to life, even when all the shit is in the fan, and there is a nasty piss stain on the rug.

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