If you haven’t seen it somewhere on this blog already, I am a film snob. This doesn’t mean I only like arty films that no one understands, it really just means that I take in a whole lot more than just the visceral side of films. So I won’t like a film just because it is action pack or has a lot of cool special effects. I pick movies apart. A lot of people see movies as just entertainment as if the movie is not trying to say something, like a book would. I completely disagree of course and unless I am watching a bad spoof movie, I always look for what a film is trying to tell me, you know; a theme.
I think it is great that “The Big Lebowski” gets so much praise from the general public. I am a huge Coen Brothers fan and like to see them do well. However, the fact that “The Big Lebowski” is seen by most everyone as just some funny comedy about a stoner, bowling and missing toes, does bother me a bit. I mean, they even have Lebowski fests, where rabid fans dress as their favorite characters and watch the move in a bowling alley and recite lines along with the movie; ala, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”. I wonder if any of these people looked further into what this movie truly is about; The death of the ideal of the traditional Western/American hero.
Before the film was completed, the Coens said, they were filming their Western and that is what “The Big Lebowski” is. But of course, The Dude, is the new age cowboy. There is a reason the film takes place in Los Angeles, there is a reason why there are so many Gulf War/Saddam Hussein references, there is a reason the film opens up with a tumbleweed through the desert and LA landscapes, there is a reason there is a mysterious stranger/cowboy that The Dude meets at bar, or should I say saloon. These elements are not put in just for comedy, they all have a point.
I’ll try to make this short and not sum up each little piece of the movie in a 50 page essay. The point of the movie is that, once America was all about the cowboy, who would come and save our skins from some terrible force and then ride back off west into the sunset, of course more precisely into the western land, symbolizing the western hemisphere’s dominance in the world. As times changed, we idolized our solders, fighting overseas to keep the world safe from communism and other threats to personal freedom. But in the world of The Dude, these people are no longer worth being idolized. Cowboys are long gone in the way they are seen in out eyes and our solders are off fighting for oil, not freedom.
This is where The Dude comes in. The new heros of our land are the common man, who will out of nothing more than a good conscience go and aid a man who looks poorly upon the common man, with his kidnapped wife. The Man who will help out a woman, who is practically a complete stranger, (whom had a very large man punch you in the face) conceive a child. The man who will still stand by a friend who constantly provides the common man with poor misguided advice that spirals him deeper into a Kafkaesque world of absurdity. The man who will take the time in the middle of all this ridiculous crap to hold up the promise of seeing his land lord’s, one man interpretive dance performance. The Dude.
But there is another message layered in here. This is a story about how we have forgotten our past/bastardized it. Driving his car after it is retrived from being stolen, The Dude finds out that it was a high school kid who stole his car, via some poor homework he discovers within the vehicle. The Dudes friend Walter, informs The Dude that this kid’s father was the Creator and Author of over 150 episodes of the TV Western classic, “Branded”. When they arrive at home of, Arthur Digby Sellars, they find him to be dying, encased in an iron lung. So here, in front of these men, is a man that they view as a legend, a man who wrote about the great western period America, no matter how embellished it may have been and not only he is being kept alive by a massive contraption that breathes for him, but his son can not even write a passing grade worthy paper, on American History. Our past is dying, if not already dead and we are letting it wither away.
Of course though, The Dude himself, is not perfect and is, in his own way, guilty of warping the past. When The Dude, meets the character or The Stranger, he is treated to an old American Proverb. Now, I don’t want to assume that everyone in the world does not know what is being said, but from talking to people about this, I believe most people hear this, “Sometimes you eat the BAR and well sometimes, the BAR, well he eats you”. Of course, the real saying has the word, BEAR, in place of the word Bar. It is simply The Strangers accent that makes you hear it one way instead of the other. And when it comes time for The Dude to use this saying himself, not only does he say BAR, but he can’t even complete the phrase. Now, this is also there to illustrate this movement from an older hero to a new one, but it is still a bastardization of what, once was.
There is so much more to go into when it comes to this movie, but as I said, I am trying to write a blog post not an essay. If would love to discuss this further with anyone else and would hope everyone out there really digs deep into the true meanings of the movies they see. I am sure I already made no sense in my condensed explanations of this particular movie, but hey, sometimes you eat the bar…
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