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Published: 18-12-2019

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Uncovering the Meaning of the Film Big Lebowski

The opening scene of ‘The Large Lebowski’ (Coen Brothers, 1998) begins with a track shot more than desert terrain, along with saloon-style credits and western themed non-diegetic intro music (Fig 1) (Sons of Pioneers- ‘Tumbling Tumble Weeds’), quickly creating the viewer think that they are being presented with a western film. This sense is heightened when the observer hears a narrator (Samuel Elliot), sounding like he is from the west himself, possibly a cowboy.

This track shot continues as the sky suddenly turns to night in a matter of seconds, with a shot of a tumbleweed across the landscape. This sudden alter to darkness could give the watcher with a new sense of anxiety due to an unforeseen drastic alter in the skyline. It is then when we see the added lengthy shot of the city of Los Angeles. Furthermore, David-Martin Jones follows the argument of Eric Mottram in Blood on the Nash Ambassador (1983) as he states that the instant modify from the skyline represents the ‘image of the gun-toting, masculine individualist of the nineteentch century frontier, to the automobile driving individualists of the newly emergent twentieth century America’. It would be plausible to feel that the rumours of a western film we see in the first fifty seconds of the film would be dispelled by the Los Angeles skyline. Even so, the continued use of the tumbleweed and the western narrator implies we can only speculate that ‘The Big Lebowski’ is not a western, not eliminate the possibility altogether. It is also crucial to notice that as the tumbleweed drifts across the hill, we hear the sound of a bowling ball rolling across a bowling lane. Thereby, this tumbleweed can be said to represent to the observer an aspect which is paramount to the life of ‘the Dude’ (Jeff Lebowski- Jeff Bridges), bowling.

The scene moves on to another track shot of the tumbleweed rolling across the busy streets of Los Angeles. The tumbleweed then drifts on in the middle of the road, offering the viewer an additional relation to the important bowling aspect of the film which was noticed earlier, as the tumbleweed moves across the middle of two lanes in the road. This continuous bowling reference may possibly also have a deeper which means, as it is plausible that it can portray ‘the dude’ himself. It can be argued that this tumbleweed is his life drifting across the city of Los Angeles, with no any true goal. This lack of goal is shown by that he is unemployed, living a seemingly lacklustre life style with out any true prospects, but he appears to be content with this. The Dude finds solace and tranquillity in bowling (despite the fact that we never see the dude bowl in the film). At the finish of the film the dude says to the cowboy that his life is “Y’know, strikes and gutters, ups and downs”, displaying the viewer that bowling represents his life-cycle. Strikes represent when life is going properly, and gutters when life is not also effectively. This is evidenced in Donny’s (Steve Buscemi) last bowl, as he was previously observed acquiring strikes (Fig two) and shortly before his heart-attack he bowls a nine (Fig three), not a strike as previously shown.

The tumbleweed then is observed moving across the beach towards the horizon. It can also be said that this is symbolic the use of the frontier can represent escapism and individuality through discovering-oneself, as identity is a important theme to the film. The narrator touches upon this in the course of his opening narration as he comments “Sometimes, there’s a man, effectively, he’s the man for his time and spot. He fits right in there. And that is the Dude”. From this, the viewer gets the sense that this character known as ‘the dude’ personifies the West, in maintaining with his wish for individuality and distancing himself from the Huge Lebowski. This is evidenced in a later scene (Fig four) where he states to the Huge Lebowski at his mansion that “I’m not Mr. Lebowski, you’re Mr. Lebowski, I’m ‘the dude’, that is what you contact me”. In spite of ‘the dude’s’ unconventional messy and lazy way of life, he seems to be content with his life style, and does not appear to want to emulate a similar lifestyle to the far more effective Mr. Lebowski.

As the scene moves on to a view of nicely-lit supermarket aisle, there is an instant reassertion of the notion of a far more contemporary film, additional removing the notion that the main theme of the film is a western. Our 1st shot of ‘the dude’ tends to make the observer believe that this man will be the central actor to the film, especially given the narrator’s description of a character as ‘the dude’- and this character quickly seems to match the name. This is due to that ‘the dude’ is dressed in a robe, t-shirt, shorts and sandals, showing his lack of intelligent apparel, immediately signaling to the observer a lazy figure who is comfortable in himself and his laid-back attire. This can also be said to reflect the city of Los Angeles, as Los Angeles itself is considered to be a cool, relaxed city- as shown in previously by means of the city streets. His casual walk and stance also signifies his care-totally free persona.

As the camera slowly zooms in on ‘the dude’, the narrator comments “there’s a man… I will not say a hero, ’cause, what’s a hero?” This shows the narrator pondering whether ‘the Dude’ is in fact a hero or not, displaying him to somewhat have a hero status given that he is questioning it. This would surely catch the viewer by surprise, as he is very a lot the difficult the hero stereotype, as he is not muscular, nicely-dressed or properly-groomed. The narrator may possibly perhaps be biased in his view of ‘the Dude’, in that he is praising ‘the dude’ for keeping the spirit of individuality (closely linked with the western) alive. This reversal of the hero stereotype could just be a private reflection from the cowboy narrator, as he is not necessarily observed as a hero by anyone else in the film, so this notion of ‘the dude’ getting a hero need to be one thing to due to his “casualness” (Coen Screenplay, 3). This notion of a biased perception as he ‘seems to genuinely like the Dude and his posture in life’ (Fosl, 2012: 68) exacerbates the thought that ‘the dude’ personifies the west and their individuality.

The narrator has been described by director Joel Coen as “a tiny bit of an audience substitute … It’s as if somebody was commenting on the plot from an all-seeing point of view”. This use of an omniscient narrator is exciting as the viewer listens to him and relies upon him for information as to what the film will be about. From the narration, there is basically practically nothing useful to withdraw from it, as the only actual data we take from the narrator is that the major character is ‘the dude’, and the occasional reference to the ‘I-raqis’, relating to the Gulf War.

‘The dude’ then proceeds to open a carton of ‘half and half cream’ not only does this show the viewer his nature of getting laid back and care-cost-free provided that he is opening this prior to obtain, but it is evident later on in the film that this will be utilised for him to make a ‘White Russian’ cocktail, a drink he has which we see the principal character have nine times in the film. It can be argued that the whiteness of the cocktail van somewhat resemble a bowling pin, therefore providing an additional reference to bowling. He then proceeds to pay for this at checkout, but using the rather unconventional technique of writing a cheque for $.69. This close up shot can, as soon as once more, show his poor life style, given that he does not have this tiny amount of disposable revenue. As he is writing this cheque, his consideration wanders towards to the tv screen, as we see President George Bush speaking about the current war state amongst Kuwait and Iraq in the Gulf War. What is important is that George Bush uses the phrase “This aggression will not stand”, a phrase which ‘the dude’ replicates when he meets the ‘Big Lebowski’ about his rug (“this aggression will not stand, man”). With close observation to cheque (Fig 5), we can see that it is dated ‘Sept 11’. It is key to realize that this is not a conspiracy to 9/11, but it is just that George Bush’s speech on a ‘new world order’ in which he proclaimed “this aggression will not stand” was offered on that date in 1991.

There are several references to the Gulf War seen in this film. In the scene exactly where Walter (John Goodman) loses his temper with Smokey for stepping more than the line in a bowling match (Fig 6), Walter proceeds to furiously pull a gun out on Smokey. ‘The dude’s’ pacifism is emphasized here by telling Walter to “put the piece away (referring to the pistol)”. Afterwards, ‘the dude’ reiterates Walter to “take it easy”, Walter responds by saying “Pacifism is not… look at our current circumstance with that camel-fucker in Iraq. Pacifism is not some thing to hide behind”. This is not only a reference to the Gulf War, as with the line becoming crossed in the bowling match, ‘a border has been crossed, rules have been violated, and violence results’ (Comer, 2005: 99). In particular, this scene is also associated with the gulf war in the theme of ‘taking a stand’. This is evidenced straight away, as the phrase “this aggression will not stand” (as aforementioned) is reiterated by ‘the dude’ when he is meeting Mr. Lebowski about his rug that is urinated on.

Moving on, we see ‘the dude’ walking towards his home. There are numerous aspects of this which are worthy of note. 1st of all, the darkness descending over the household tends to make the viewer believe something undesirable is about to occur, offered that darkness is frequently related with evil and peril. In addition, it is shown that the area which ‘the dude’ lives in has dirty walls, overgrown plants and an old bike protruding out of a bush. This symbolizes that that this neighbourhood is not properly-kept and there is little care about its appearance. This is certainly applicable to ‘the dude’ upon observing his property, his car and also his way of life. Nonetheless, this also reflects his care-totally free nature and his capacity to not ‘sweat the tiny stuff’. In addition, it can be stated that his walk to the home might be one more reference to bowling. The shape of the path that goes his property is surprisingly equivalent to the bowling ball dispensers we see in the bowling alley in the film (Fig 7), he’s even carrying his bowling ball as he walks through this path.

As ‘the dude’ enters his property, momentarily there is comprehensive darkness in his house, which once again would give the observer some anxiousness as to what will occur when the light come back on. When the lights do come back on, several things are noticeable. The lifeless colour of the door and the walls once once more reflects ‘the dude’s’ disregard to the appearance of his property, keeping with the appearance of the neighbourhood as observed earlier. Also, we see a bowling award which is apparently nailed to the wall, reiterating to the viewer the value of bowling to ‘the dude’s life.

Conclusively, although the opening scene of ‘The Big Lebowski’ does show obvious elements of being a western, it is essential to recognize that it is not. The opening scene clearly depicts a “deadbeat” who drifts by means of life, a lot like the tumbleweed we see in the introduction. Nonetheless, ‘the dude’ is contempt with this, as his relaxed way of life suits him as properly as it can. Perception is crucial, as to Mr. Lebowski (and admittedly ‘the dude’ himself) he is a “deadbeat”. Nonetheless, it is clear that the narrator views him as a hero, offered his individuality and western appeal as aforementioned.

Additionally, there are elements of this opening scene which relate to other genres of film- film noir certainly becoming a crucial one particular. The character of ‘the dude’ is instantaneously shown to be really care-cost-free and lazy, depicting that he has not matured and that, to some extent, he is stuck in the previous. This is key as what is frequently seen in film noir is characters who are plagued by their past. This is evidenced by numerous characters in the film, such as Maude (Julianne Moore), who can be noticed to be stuck in the fluxes art movement, as shown by her many unconventional art-pieces and makings of art all through the film. This is also evidenced by means of Walter, who is still holding on to the memories of the Vietnam War and his ex-wife, proclaiming on numerous occasions that he is shomer shabbas. ‘The dude’ rejects Walter’s identity by proclaiming he’s “fucking living in the past”. This is ironic, as ‘the dude’s hippie identity is anchored in its personal references to the past’ (Fosl, 2012: 269). ‘The dude’ is apparently still in the flower-power movement shown by his marijuana and his need for peace in his debacle with his rug, as shown previously by his quote “this aggression will not stand, man”, along with his pacifism all through the film. This quote also implies an additional relation to film noir, in that numerous of the films in film noir are set to the backdrop of war namely World War II), even so in ‘The Big Lebowski’ the film is set clearly in the backdrop of the Gulf War. The Coen brothers in the have admitted the relations in between ‘The Large Lebowski’ and the Raymond Chandler’s ‘The Big Sleep’ (1946) (Fig 8). When asked as to what extent ‘The Big Sleep’ influenced ‘The Massive Lebowski’, Joel Coen stated how he wanted to do a story related, “how it moves episodically, and deals with the characters attempting to unravel a mystery”. Due to these aspects, ‘The Large Lebowski’ has been referred to as a ‘bowling noir’ (Mottram, 2000: 136), given its unconventional stylings in relation to film noir.

As the film comes complete circle to another narration, the closing narration is significantly like the opening narration, void of any true details or relevance. This lack of a climax even so is encapsulated not only in the opening scene, but across the film. The closing narration is essentially just the cowboy talking about the story and what has already been shown, there is no grand message, epiphany or finale that comes out of it. ‘The dude’ is as he was ahead of, bowling in hope to get to the finals, just before ‘the stranger’ stops and explains how he’s “rambling again” as he was in the opening scene.
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