“The Dude abides. I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowin’ he’s out there, the Dude, takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners.” – The Stranger
To abide is to accept without condition or question, and the Dude reminds of us that again in 2008. This year marks the 10th anniversary of White Russians and 10-pin, of nihilists and thousand-dollar blow jobs, ringers and Larry Sellers, rugs and toes. This year marks a bowling frame’s worth of Big Lebowski, one of the first real classics in a film era that’s for the most part still too young to know which of its progeny will persist. The fact that the Big Lebowski has achieved that status so soon–even five years ago, you could have made the argument–is a credit to the Coen brothers, their quirky plot and quirkier cast of characters. But, by and large, it’s a credit to the Dude, but not for his amiable, stoner nature, nor for the frosty cream-and-kalua residue on his mustache. He is what we wish we could be.
For the driven, the career-minded, the productive or maybe just the normal–for you and me and nearly everyone else–the Dude’s life would seem enviable only in fantasy, and possibly not even then. He’s lazy. An oaf. A philistine, even, with no real direction or sense of cultural value. He smokes pot, pays his rent late or maybe not at all and participates in a “”sport” that seems immovably lodged in 1950s middle American tradition. He writes checks for 61 cents for milk to stir into his glut of caucasians, and his only form of identification is a grocery store club card. If you were to imagine, with real-world constraints in mind, what his bank account balance looked like or how his credit scored, you might double check your own savings for peace of mind. But the point of the Dude isn’t to be a stoner Credence fan, even if that facilitates how he lives his life.
For the Dude, life is water and he is the duck’s back–it slides off without soaking him even if he does get a little wet sometimes. He’s reactive to it, more than anything, something that we proactive types find difficult to fathom, yet somehow wish we could do. Maybe that’s why Steve Buscemi says in a DVD interview, “Everybody wants to be the dude,” even if no one can figure out how without losing their job.
See, we are his supporting cast, his supporting cast us–a group of achievers who are victims of our own device. To wit: The Big Lebowski, a man whose vanity is matched only by his perceived moral conviction, compensates for lingering twinges of inadequacy by putting on airs of money, power and piety. Bunny Lebowski, a farm girl from Minnesota, makes amends of a forgotten life by becoming a money-grubbing whore, quite literally. Jesus Quintana, the Jesus, fabricates a dominant persona to repress a pedophilic past (8 year olds, dude). Maude Lebowski dwells in obscure art and feminism, narrated by an affected east coast accent, to detach herself from the moronic blunders of her father. And then there’s Walter Sobchak, the somewhat delusional Vietnam vet, who clings to a past that meant something to him–his war, his marriage–when little else presently does. His attempts to assign value to his current life arrive through loose and preposterous Vietnam War analogies, adherence to Jewish orthodoxy even though he’s Polish Catholic, over-the-line competitive tendencies in a bowling league and involvement in and embellishment of the Dude’s life.
But the Dude remains for the most part calm. He is ashamed of nothing, escaping from nothing, hiding nothing and compensating for nothing. He simply is. He isn’t trying to achieve, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s underachieving. And while his comrades try to control their existence, the Dude exists in his moment unfettered by concern, unless concern is brought by someone else. Even when his car is stolen, he’s lost a million bucks and a green-painted toe suggests Walter’s dirty-whites ringer may cost Bunny more than that little pig, he can return to his bungalow, light some candles and do a J in the tub under the echo of whale sounds. His acceptance creates balance: Hand off this briefcase to kidnappers? Right on. Recover the lost ransom money? Far out. Where is my money? Fuckin’ social studies.
The few times we do see the Dude anything but at ease with his situation are those moments when others are trying to achieve on his behalf. Walter tossing out the ringer made the Dude believe he could recover the money for Maude, which ultimately snowballed to the Larry Sellers interrogation, the Jackie Treehorn penis sketch and his being poetically told to keep his ugly fuckin’ goldbrickin’ ass out of Malibu after taking a mug to the dome. Even after the Chinamen–Asian-American rather–micturates on his rug, the Dude is willing to somewhat blithely accept that until Walter’s provocation prompts him to meet with the Big Lebowski, which is the origin of all of this anyway. To be certain, it wasn’t that all the dude wanted was his rug back–initially, all Walter wanted was the dude’s rug back.
However, being un-Walter doesn’t make you Dude. Enter Donny, who like a child, wanders into the middle of a movie… At first glance, he may seem very Dude-like. But Donny–shut the fuck up, you miserable piece of shit–isn’t present enough in his life to even be accepting of what happens to it. And when he does try to live inside the periphery, he is a pushover. As a result, his merits go largely unappreciated, even when he’s throwing rocks, and the first time he does encounter adversity–the parking lot fight–rather than being able to persevere, he dies. He’s no better than Walter, and probably even worse. And the cast reveals its humanity.
All of sudden, what the Stranger says seems all the more valid: the Dude’s not just the man for that time and place, the Dude is an ideal for every time and place, takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners. Because it’s easy for us sinners, achievers, to be cynical. Focus on a place, an event, a situation, the here and now, and you bloat yourself with melancholy. There’s a war. Here’s an election. There’s a recession. Here’s your 11 o’clock news. Us Weekly sells like gangbusters, and print newspapers gasp for breath. Prices of goods perpetually increase, and so does our collective debt. It’s easy to do that–to pick and particularize our anxieties. Nostalgia helps, too, by telling us that before was better, so the hereafter must be doomed. The past isn’t always rose-colored, the present won’t suffocate us and the future often need not be scrutinized so intensely. We forget most days that we’ve had worse days, and that to exist is to endure, but acceptance is a better form of existence. Sometimes simply allowing life to happen to you requires far less energy and infinitely less pessimism. We have less control over our lives than we like to believe. That’s not religion, that’s not the soul’s chicken soup, that’s not zen–well, maybe it’s zen–mostly, though, it’s just fact. There are “strikes and gutters, ups and downs,” and we’d do well to take both in stride. To live otherwise is very un-dude. Because the dude, he abides.
AD got our hands on a copy of the 10th Anniversary Limited Edition bowling-ball DVD case a couple of days before the Tuesday’s release, and spent the better part of a Sunday absorbing all of the features. Two discs, both including bonus material, offer nearly four hours of all things Lebowski. Start with the introduction (found as the bonus featurette on disc one), a riff on AMC Classics fireside library-take introductions featuring Mortimer Young of the fictitious Forever Young Film Preservation, it’s worth a watch, if only for his mention of an Albanian coming of age movie. Then dive into the Big Lebowski. After watching, explore the insider vignettes on the main characters, as explained through interviews with the cast. See a mini-documentary on the real-life Lebowski Fest, and how it grew from a small, alcohol-less crew at southern baptist Fellowship Lanes, to a nationwide costume event on both coasts. An interactive map shows footage from most of the shooting script locations, describing why the Coen brothers chose those spots and where and what in Los Angeles they actually are. (Sorry, Holly Star Lanes was razed shortly after filming. A middle school sits there now.) If you’re from the area, or have been, you might be surprised how close some of it is. Also included are an explanation of the famous Lebowski dream sequences, a photo gallery and Jeff Bridge’s photo book, which he had made with his personal photos from the set and gave to castmates as gifts after shooting. FYI … you can now purchase the book at jeffbridges.com. I’m no shill, but it’s worth a look as a gift for Lebowski crazies.
You can get regular casing with all the same features for a more normal DVD price, but for an extra 14 bucks, you get the bowling ball case, which may not make for convenient storage, but sure is cool to look at. words/joe crosby
MP3: Bob Dylan :: The Man In Me
MP3: Kenny Rogers :: Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)
Amazon: The Big Lebowski: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack