Sunday, March 13, 2016

Don't Make a Scene: The Big Lebowski

The Story: I don't know what this scene means. I don't know what any of it means. But I do know The Big Lebowski is a Coen Brothers take on the detective stories of Raymond Chandler: it's set in L.A., it's a detective story, the detective is something of an outsider looking in on the fringes of society, and Society has a Problem that the outsider must attempt to solve. Just like in Chandler. Just like Chandler's "slumming angel," Philip Marlowe.

The Big Lebowski also has a Narrator, ala Chandler. In Chandler-prime, it is Marlowe himself. In The Big Lebowski it is The Stranger (Sam Elliott). And at one point in the story, The Dude and The Stranger meet in a bowling alley, at a point when The Dude is alone and without allies. He's hit the doldrums, with no wind to carry him, and no plot device to steer him by.

Knowing Chandler like I do, could The Stranger be a manifestation of The Dude—an alter-ego? Could this be a format-smashing meeting of the subject and his narrative device—the voice in his head? Could The Stranger be a guardian angel—he seems to be of another time and place, giving hope and encouragement (and an admonishment of language) to The Dude when he seems to be hurling gutter-balls. He's associated with the Sons of the Pioneers song "Tumblin' Tumbleweed;" could he be a lost western spirit drifting, as The Dude drifts? One of my favorite parts of this scene is the introduction of "Tumblin' Tumbleweeds" on the bowling alley P.A. right before The Stranger hoves into view. The Dude cocks his head one way, then t'other, like the ancient grammaphone-dog logo for RCA. You remember the legend?

"His Master's Voice"

But right when the Stranger leaves...there's a phone-call for The Dude. At the bowling alley. Sure, it might strain credulity a bit, but at least it's a lead to pursue.

Like I said, I don't know what it means. But I do know to expect the transcendent from the Coen Brothers—that point where elements coalesce to something more than what's on the screen. A Big Surprise. The Long Thought. A High Meaning of it All.
The Set-Up: "The Dude" (Jeff Bridges)—real name Jeff Lebowski—has been set upon in his house by toughs who give him a porcelain facial and urinate on his carpet. Bummer, man! It was a case of mistaken identity. And "The Dude" in trying to get a replacement carpet (that pulls the room together) has gotten mixed up the other, bigger Lebowski (David Huddleston), whose wife (Tara Reid) has been kidnapped for ransom. The Dude has been chosen to deliver the ransom and, due to the intercessions of his Viet-vet bowling partner Walter Sobcheck (John Goodman), it has all gone horribly, horribly wrong. Now, there are complications with a gang of nihilists (Peter Stormare, Flea, Torsten Voges), a marmot, a missing digit, a bizarre slop-artist (Julianne Moore), a porn-king (Ben Gazzara) and the up-coming bowling tournament. Life's supposed to be easy, man...

Ya know, like...ya know...Action!

The Dude: My only hope is that Big Lebowski kills me before the Germans can cut my dick off.
Walter Sobcheck: Now, that is just ridiculous, Dude. No one's gonna cut your dick off!
The Dude: Thank you, Walter!
Walter: Not if I have anything to say about it!
The Dude: Thank you, Walter, that makes me feel very secure...
Walter: Du-ude...
The Dude: That makes me feel very warm inside.
Walter: Ah, duuuude...
The Dude: This whole fuckin' thing! I could be just sittin' here with pee-stains on my rug...
Walter: Yeah...
The Dude: But no, man, I gotta, ya know...
Walter: Fuckin' Germans. Nothing changes. Fucking Nazis.
Donny: They were Nazi's, Dude?
Walter: Oh, c'mon, Donny, they were threatening castration!
Donny: Uh-huh?
Walter: Are we gonna split hairs here?
The Dude: Look, man...
Donny: No...
Walter: Am I wrong?
Donny: Well, he, he..
Walter: C'mon...
The Dude: Man, they were nihilists, man!
Walter: Huh?
The Dude: They kept saying they believe in nothing.
Walter:....Nihilists....Fuck me!
Walter: I mean, say what you want about the tennets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos.
The Dude: Yeah.
Walter: And also, let's not forget, let's not forget, Dude, that keeping wildlife, um, an amphibious rodent know, domestic...within the city...
Walter: ...that ain't legal, either.
The Dude: What are you, a fucking park ranger, now?
Walter: No! I'm just tryin' to offer...
The Dude: Who gives a shit about the fucking marmot?
Walter: We are...sympathizing here, Dude.
The Dude: Fuck sympathy! I don't need your fuckin' sympathy, man! I need my fuckin' johnson!
Donny: What do you need that for, Dude?
Walter: You have got to buck up, man! You cannot drag this negative energy into the tournament!
Dude: Fuck the tournament! Fuck you, Walter!
Walter: Fuck the tournament? Okay, Dude, I can see that you don't want to be cheered up here.
Walter: C'mon, Donny, let's go get us a lane.
The Dude: Another caucasian, Gary.
Gary: Right, Dude.
The Dude: Friends like these, right, Gary?
Gary: That's right, Dude.
Suddenly, "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" by The Sons of the Pioneers croons over the soundtrack.
The Stranger: You got a good sarsaparilla?
Gary: Souix City Sarsaparilla?
The Stranger: Yeah, that's a good one.*
The Dude sighs
The Stranger: How ya doin' there, Dude?
The Dude: Not too good, man.
The Stranger: One o' those days, huh?
The Dude: Yeah!
The Stranger: Well...a wiser fella than myself once said... "Sometimes you eat the b'ar, an'...
Gary brings him his bottle.
The Stranger: ....much obliged...
The Stranger:' sometimes the b'ar, wall, he eats you."
The Dude: Hmmm. That some kinda Eastern thing?
The Stranger: Far from it.
The Dude looks at him. They appraise each other.
The Stranger: I like your style, Dude.
The Dude: Uh, well, I dig your style, too, man. Got the whole cowboy thing goin.'
The Stranger: Thankee.
The Stranger: There's just one thing, Dude?
The Dude: What's that?
The Stranger: Ya have to use so many cuss-words?
The Dude: ...the fuck you talkin' 'bout?
The Stranger: Okay, Dude. Have it your way.
The Stranger: Take 'er easy, Dude.
The Dude: Yeah, thanks, man.
Gary: Call for ya, Dude.
The Big Lebowski

Words by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Pictures by Roger Deakins and Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

The Big Lebowski is available on DVD from Universal Home Video.

* It is a good one! I've had Sioux City Sarsaparilla, and anytime I wander into an import store, I'll buy a four-pack. If'n you want a bubble-gum flavored soda, that is.

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