Analysis: “The Big Lebowski”

Some are born Duddhist, some achieve Dudeism, and some have Dudeness thrust upon them. Our only “complaint” with the Coen Brothers’ marvelous masterpiece, The Big Lebowski, is that Jeffrey Lebowski’s pathway to becoming El Duderino is never revealed. In whatever parallel universe the actual story of “The Dude” occurred, it is our guess that at some point prior to the adventures presented in the movie, Lebowski-the-Lesser fell victim to the sort of multiple train-wreck—e.g., a marriage-career-health-religion crisis—that fully and truly deserved the description: clusterf**k. 

To experience multi-sided death and yet walk away from the twisted wreckage—and without acquiring the persona of a zombie—can shift a person’s consciousness up the scale to where the experiencer-self is continuously overshadowed by the observer-self, and perspective and priorities become crystal clear to a higher aspect of Self while becoming a complete, and even odious, mystery to those who have neither seen the place where sewer pipes end nor discovered the grand vista beyond the processing plant. Sometimes, for some dudes, way out in the misty expanse there is a candy-colored neon sign that beckons with: Bowling Lanes—Open 24/7, or the equivalent. 

Whenever we hear the common criticism that the film was a box office flop, we hear the Dude laughing large. Such are the critics who have the shrunken gonads to call the Dude “developmentally arrested,” as if Dudeism could not possibly be a choice made by an intelligent and sane person. Such is the ignorance of those who have never experienced a Grand Trine Cluster of illusion-erasing events, or studied Zen. Yet the Dude harbors no animosity towards them because, if we surmise correctly, the Dude has been there too. Before dragging his own cross to Calvary he was the ape who tossed the jawbone skyward in 2001: A Space Odyssey. He was Napoleon at Waterloo and Custer at Little Bighorn (but never a Nixon with both tits caught in his own wringer). 

Celebration and defeat are as connected as a booming bowling ball and an exploding pile of battered pins. “I love the smell of floor wax in the morning,” the Dude might say. In any case, the Dude abides—he is true to himself—a truth that is “down there somewhere” for souls brave and foolish enough to take another look. But illumination is not without price, so remember to hold your breath, and keep a towel handy. 

The screenplay could have been given a Dickensonian title, like: A Tale of Two Lebowskis. Examining the two main characters: Jeffrey-the-Dude and Jeffrey-the-anti-Dude, answers the question: “What’s in a name?” and the answer is: not much, man. If labels and reality appear to be the same thing, the match-up may be joyously synchronistic and valid, or starkly and darkly deceptive. Every coin has two sides and yet the coin is one. So, what is the truth of a given moment? For the answer to that you have to look at the coin—use reason. Is it heads or tails? Illumination does not require a guru. 

Do the Dude and anti-Dude have anything in common? Yes, a great deal, although no critic we know has explored this. Both men are steadfast in their views on life, both are prone to making certain material attachments, both are attracted to free-wheeling passionate women, neither has any money of his own, and neither can relate to nihilists because the Lebowskis are all about following flows of personal desire. 

The Big Lebowski is organic, like a natural crystal. Every time you return to it the Dude is prepared to reveal something new, profound, and alive. Bring a beverage.

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2 Responses to “Analysis: “The Big Lebowski””

  1. Stark Raven Says:

    Other commentaries I have read stress the differences between the two Lebowskis. Your brief examination of their similarities has opened me to a whole new understanding of their relationship and of the story.

  2. PluribusOne™ Says:

    The way we see it, the big difference between the two men is that one is intensely ego-driven and the other is not at all. The Big Lebowski’s fingerprint-free sacred wall of honors reflects his ability/authority to write checks on someone else’s investment—like every politician holding a position of power in government.

    The point is that he is no higher achiever in generating cash-flow than the Dude.

    Based on appearances alone, the world reveres the Big Lebowski (the anti-Dude) because his trappings of wealth and power imply character and accomplishments of the highest order, whereas the same world (Malibu police chief, etc) treats the Dude like dirt because he has the appearance of a sloppy lay-about—no trappings of social power or monetary wealth. Western society is entrained to be manipulated by such appearances.

    The point here is that one Lebowski is no less a lay-about than the other, in terms of bourgeois ethos.

    Yet the Dude is as serious about winning the bowling tournament—an actual mental and physical discipline-based achievement, governed by rules and ethics, and team-structured—as any athlete is about winning a game in a higher-profile sport like baseball. If the alleged kidnappers had called him during the tournament, he would not have left to rescue the amoral Bunny. The Big Lebowski, who cared not at all about her rescue, has the questionable moral fiber of a bellowing, deceptive Wizard of Oz.

    The point here is that each man is focused entirely on his chosen lifestyle and agenda—they share fixity of purpose.

    The Big Lebowski’s major achievement is gaining and maintaining a pretense, which is no insignificant matter in Western society. In fact, it is as significant as Ronald Reagan achieving the Presidency and being deemed one of the greatest U. S. Presidents although he was the Bush family’s puppet. The Dude’s social activism during college years was significant although the names of such street-level sustainers of freedom are rarely household names, and their contributions reflect personal sacrifices, not monetary gain.

    The point here is that each man has made significant, unique, and uncompromising societal contributions.

    Again, looked at a certain way, despite contrasts related to focus, means, and style, there is more similarity than difference to be seen between the two Jeffrey Lebowskis. The most substantive difference is ego versus non-ego.

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