Good Morning Little Achievers,
Articulating why a movie, in particular ‘The Big Lebowski’ affects, and even empowers me is much more difficult than I’d first imagined. When people criticize this national treasure typically the remarks are limited to ‘it’s stupid’ or worse, shrug their shoulders freely admitting they don’t get it. But is this any worse than those of us claiming insight yet rarely explain why? To be honest here I don’t see any difference. For those of us espousing Lebowski-ism’s like scripture looking down in disbelief at those dismissing the work as schlock, we need to enounce clearly why we’re superior to the poor schleps confused by this Coen Brother’s classic. Prior to this undertaking I took time to read again the original screen play. It still holds up as the best effort of my generation, and now my challenge is to explain why.
First of all it’s a damn good story! The primary characters ‘The Dude,’ Walter, and Donny are just plain odd. But they were unified by a love for bowling and a rug soiled by a rude Chinaman. Let’s discuss each individually shall we?
‘The Dude’ is based on the life of Jeffery Dowd an actual person. He’s a loafer who now gets paid to attend ‘Lebowski Fest,’ drink ‘White Russians,’ and has attained a modest level of celebrity. In fact during the tragic Red Rocks episode the bartender announced to Dee-Dee that Jeff Dowd was coming in after the movie as if he was Tom Hanks! ‘The Dude’ keeps a roof over his head, buys dope, drives a car, bowls, drinks, and beds rich women without any apparent means. Without examining it too closely most of us would welcome an income without the annoying obligation of time necessary to earn it. When’s the last time you wrote a check for 69¢? ‘The Dude’ has an uncanny knack for absorbing a word or phrase then uses it later as his own. Hell one of our senior ‘rules committee’ members is notorious for that annoying trait. ‘The Dude’s’ problem solving ability is lacking on most levels, which of course is key to the irony created by it and thus funny. Yet 50% of those viewing the movie never understood or all together missed the rhetorical brilliance of the lines delivered. Does that make one stupid? Perhaps.
‘Walter Sobchak’ is a Viet Nam veteran and made obscure references to Viet Nam throughout the movie. Played by John Goodman he is a bigger than life character who is ALWAYS convinced he’s right. Does that sound like anyone you know? In one scene at the bowling alley he pulls a piece from his bag, cocks it, and points it at Smokey’s head forcing him to ‘mark it zero’ for inching over the foul line. He justified his actions claiming it was a “league game is it not?” Minutes later Walter was engaged in conversation about ‘The Dude’s’ stained rug:
“ What the fuck are you talking about? The chinaman is not the issue here, Dude. I’m talking about drawing a line in the sand, Dude. Across this line, you DO NOT… Also, Dude, chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature. Asian-American, please.”
It’s priceless! This contrast is scattered throughout the movie never failing to surprise the viewer. Walter who also “dabbled in pacifism” would never be expected to use the word nomenclature let alone know what it means! It’s unfathomable that one could not appreciate and find humorous this contradiction in Walter’s flawed character. The inability to dissect Walter’s bipolar nature also supports the notion of diminished cognitive abilities.
“Donny” is the quiet one. In the scenes involving the three of them he was almost always framed in the middle and behind the others. He struggled with many of the issues being discussed and would throw out a question about something said two minutes prior. This of course would enrage Walter causing him to scream, “Shut the fuck up Donny”…..”You’re out of your league”….”You’re like a child wandering the theater…” but Donny seemed oblivious to it all, secure in his role as master of the obvious. How could anyone miss the simple genius to include Donny’s unpretentiousness when mixing it up with the other two? If one failed to acknowledge this wonderful piece of the puzzle then this too begs to be added to the evidence drawer. “I am the walrus.”
Okay, given the 50/50 split between those who agree with me and those who couldn’t comprehend, I suppose ‘stupid’ is a bit harsh. In retrospect let’s give the opposing camp their due. I’d like to proffer an explanation that point to their collective inability to assimilate the movie’s quixotic humor and is due in part to their unwillingness to find the characters viable. Let’s face it, the opposing camp is so up-tight they would require a cavity search before Santa is allowed to deliver his toys! Does this mean a lack of intelligence? Probably not….but I’m just sayin.’