Today I watched The Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski (1998)
While The Holy Mountain intended to create a new religion, it failed for numerous reasons including it’s overly esoteric nature and over reliance on remixing pre-existing spiritual motifs. But as I see it there is one film that has spawned a true, if small religion, creating an unintended weekend theme of technically holy films. Of course this spiritual and moral interpretation of the film was not intended by the Coens and while they have not condemned the ‘Dudeist’ faith, they have expressed surprise at it’s existence. So what kind of film unintentionally inspires a religion?
What The Big Lebowski is is a comedy of coincidence as the unassuming Dude is mistaken for a millionaire of the same name by a couple stooges who pee on his rug. The Dude is subsequently drawn into a ridiculous and complex extortion plot that, in classic Coen comedy style, has already fallen apart at the human level. It is a classic situation of the head not talking to the hand complicated by a barrage of outside factors, one of which is the Dude himself. Because the protagonist is a disrupting agent and not in on anyone’s schemes, the plot has a very incidental feeling.
The film is really about the characters and their interactions, which is where the comedy is mainly derived from. The cast are all absolutely incredible, Jeff Bridges plays the Dude, a lazy stoner whose main excitement in life comes from his bowling league which is just the way he likes it. John Goodman plays Walter, the Dude’s primary foil, an angry Vietnam vet who is consistently aggravated and the best humour comes from the interplay between his aggression and the Dude’s more easygoing nature. The rest of the cast are equally as great but are too numerous to run through, They all drift through the film with an element of apparent randomness and coincidence.
After reading enough Dudeist literature and poetry, it becomes hard not to see this film as a broad religious parable. There is a coherent philosophy behind the Dude and a unique aesthetic to inspire a culture. The film recontextualizes elements of Buddhism and Zen with 70’s free wheeling nostalgia and Americana. Bowling becomes a symbol of self awareness and the peaceful stoner becomes the Sadhu of a new age. But if you don’t care for the more existential view of the film, it still stands as a great comedy though it has a reputation of taking a few views before being fully appreciated. This is because it is so understated and incidental I think, even super fans I have talked to admit to not only getting the full humour on subsequent watches. Whether or not this is a problem comes down to your commitment, but for anyone who enjoys the Coen brand of comedy, the depth of this makes it one of their best. 5/5