Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Dude Abides

Over the holidays, while spending time with family in California, I happened to see "The Big Lebowski," a film made by the Coen Brothers in 1998. I guess I live a hopelessly sheltered life, as I had no idea what a huge cult following had developed around this movie. It has become, as the New York Times said yesterday, the past decade's "most venerated cult film." And why should this be? According to reporter Dwight Garner, it enjoys "that elusive and addictive quality that a great midnight movie has to have: it blissfully widens and expands in your mind upon repeat viewings." I don't know about you, but I have no idea what Mr. Garner means, but that's okay because I have no idea why the "Big Lebowski" should attract so much attention either.

When seen by a naive viewer who has no idea what the fuss is all about, it seems to be a movie about nothing, a kidnapping/revenge comedy, that overuses the word "fuck," is unnecessarily hostile, and relies too heavily on catchphrases that seem to be mean something but really don't like "This aggression will not stand, man," and the "Dude Abides." And, as Mr. Garner suggests later in his article, if lines like "Nice, Marmot," and "I can get you a toe," send you into paroxysms of laughter or stir dreamy recollections of seeing the film for the 11th time, then you have become a certified Lebowskiist.

In all honesty, though, the part of the article that most intrigued me were the references to Umberto Eco's article that uses the movie "Casablanca" to explore how any book or film acquires a cult. Popularity, though necessary, is less important than the creation of an alternate universe peopled by its own unique characters who say inane but catchy things that others, outside that world, want to repeat - endlessly. Eco adds that the world fashioned must be "ramshackle, rickety, unhinged in itself." That is, the more incoherent the better, as isolated, out of context lines of dialogue take on whole new meanings of their own, owing to their "glorious ricketiness."

Others would say that the chief appeal of the film is the performance of Jeff Bridges who, as the Dude himself (remember, he abides!), plays the unruffled, shambling, basically good main character (though the people he hangs out with leave a lot to be desired). Bridges does this sort of thing better than anyone else and is thus fondly remembered by his many fans. And he inhabits, as one Lebowski scholar asserts, the personality of the Dude that so many find so attractive. He goes his own way in an admittedly irrational world, but he never gets overly upset about anything, and, in the meantime, "he's gonna care about his friends, he's gonna go to somebody's recital, and that's it."

And so I find myself ending this post with the same lines used by the Times. "Happy New Year, Dude," and to anyone who finds him or herself nodding sagely as Jeff Bridges famously declares once again "The Dude Abides."

1 comment:

  1. Steve, I loved the movie the first time I saw it. Richard and I went to see it when it first came out in a strip mall movie theater in Florida on a weekday afternoon. Needless to say, not too many folks in there. We positively loved it from the first view. I have seen it a couple of times since and still love it. Take good care, Allison