My Takeaway From a Rewatch of 'The Big Lebowski'
At the time of writing this, I've just come home from the movie theaters. And no, I didn't see 'Teen Titans Go! To the Movies.' I saw 'The Big Lebowski.' That's right, for the 20th anniversary of the cult classic film, many theaters were showing it. And I had to go see it, despite my fear that I might be an outlier in a theater filled with people in costumes (which was, thankfully, not the case.) And I saw it even though it's only been a few months since I saw it for the first time. I loved it the first time around and loved it, even more, the second time. But I can't help but admit how confusing it is. Now, in no way is that to say it's bad in any way. In fact, it's incredible. But this isn't a review, per se, of 'The Big Lebowski.' I more just wanted to write about it, express my thoughts on this movie.
I can't decide whether 'The Big Lebowski' is extremely deep or excruciatingly simple. It could be taken either way I suppose. On the shallow side, it's just a wacky story of a lazy dude who gets involved in a crazy story. On the deeper side, in my opinion, it's a story of learning self-control. I think it's a story of learning to go with the flow, as shown in the brilliant opening sequence, photographed by the great Roger Deakins, of a tumbleweed tumbling in places where a tumbleweed should not be. And maybe that's what The Dude's journey is in this movie. Just an object of nature, a chill being, stumbling into something he shouldn't be a part of. Not by his own doing, but by a completely random series of events.
After my first viewing of this movie, I loved it but thought something about The Dude that now I realized is wrong while writing this. I thought that The Dude didn't really have a journey. He starts off being chill, becomes unchill for a while, and then chills again. Which I suppose is kind of true, but I realize something else now, and this is where my theory of what the movie is all about comes into play.
Never would I think I could call 'The Big Lebowski' simple, but I think it very easily fits into the conventional story outline, just in a very unconventional way. There is a clear protagonist and a clear conflict. Our protagonist (not a hero, 'cause what's a hero?), The Dude, is held back from his wants by the conflict. His want is to chill. The conflict is the whodunnit he's thrown into. Simply, his mission is to have no mission. And his journey is sort of a circular journey. In the beginning, he's chill. In the end, he's chill. But it's an expanded chill. Let me explain.
In the end, The Dude learns to chill more, I think. The Dude is obviously an inspiring figure to not only the audience but his friends around him. He's so inspiring, that it seems like The Dude is the only person who Walter truly respects 100%. So much in fact, that he's taken on The Dude's philosophy, to a certain extent. And when The Dude loses track of his own philosophy, Walter tries to set him straight.
In the scene where Walter is driving him and The Dude to the drop-off point, The Dude accidentally reveals that there are two people in the car. After The Dude flips out at Walter, accusing him of "f*cking it up," Walter says something that really stuck with me. He says, "nothing is f*cked, Dude. Come on, you're being very un-Dude." Walter tells The Dude to take it easy! Walter, the guy who pulled a gun on someone for stepping over the line in bowling (to be fair, it was a league game), tells The Dude to chill! Irony aside, I think that's the character arc of The Dude. I think he starts at a high point, loses his chill, and then regains it. And all it took was a whole lot of ridiculous hijinx.
That's what I think The Big Lebowski is all about, finding your chill. I think the line that best encapsulates this message is "The Dude abides." The Dude is sometimes portrayed in pop culture as a rebel against the powers like the Big Lebowski which is, sort of true. He doesn't conform to the conventional idea of a happy life. But I don't think that he's a rebel, and his "abides" line reflects this. I take this line as meaning that he actually ABIDES the powers. Not just powerful people, but ideological powers, like the idea of fate. Recalling the tumbleweed, I think The Dude is just like a tumbleweed, moving in any direction the world takes him. The world took him into this whodunnit plot, and he rolled with it. The only reason he got into this plot, which he admits, is that "The Dude just wanted his rug back." And I think The Dude learned a lesson from that. He learned that material things like a rug are not worth worrying over even if it did really tie the room together.
There are still some things that I still don't really understand about 'The Big Lebowski.' Like, can someone please explain to me the point of Jesus Quintana? Don't get me wrong, he is one of the funniest parts of the movie, but what's his point? He's got about 8 lines but has one of the best musical intros ever. Also, I love both dream sequences, especially the 'Gutterballs' one that plays over The First Edition's "Just Dropped In," which is one of my favorite songs, but I've yet to figure out the point of them. I feel like that the dream sequences should be this big monumental metaphor that explains the whole movie, but I don't know what the dream sequences mean. Maybe they don't mean anything. Maybe that's the genius of the Coen Brothers. They're not pretentious in any way. They combine entertainment with just the right amount of good plot and message, but maybe Gutterballs is literally just a funny fever dream.
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