THE LEBOWSKI LITURGY:
Lessons for Living Like Lebowski
- You can die with a smile on your face without feeling like the good Lord gypped you.
As if paying homage to the earliest human art form, the story starts off with a simple campfire chat, just as cavemen did around the burning branches eons ago. An elderly cowboy narrator starts us off by unfolding a tall tale about a tumbling tumbleweed—namely, an unemployed former hippie in the early 1990s, around the time of “our conflict with Sad’m and the Eye-rackies.” The narrator seems wildly out of place to comment on something happening in such a contemporary setting, but keep in mind that The Big Lebowski is shot in such a wide angle that it could be said to transcend the laws of space and time.
What is it that is so special about the shlumpy main character that can inspire such awe and admiration in our narrator? Certainly it’s not his wardrobe (flip-flops and a bathrobe), nor his wealth (he has to pay for a carton of half-and-half with a postdated check), nor his nickname (“Dude—that’s a name no one would self-apply where I come from”). Nevertheless, the Stranger assures us that the Dude is “the man for his time and place.” In fact, the cowboy is so dumbstruck by the Dude that he loses his train of thought halfway through the introduction. We’re pretty baffled ourselves.
And just what is that time and place exactly? That’s the end of the 20th century, in Los Angeles, the city of angels. It’s the limit of the great 3,000-year westward expansion, and the end of a particular era marked by unprecedented violence and ideological extremism. Most of those ideologies turned out just plain wrong, even though millions of people died face down in the muck fighting in their defense. Now, with nowhere left to go, his horse hitched to a post alongside the bosom of the Pacific Ocean, the cowboy is obliged to make sense of it all. What’s it all about? It’s a question that people have asked for ages, sure, but perhaps is more salient today than ever. So much is happening so fast that “it all” has become a swiftly moving target. Luckily, the Stranger’s encounter with the Dude and his story provides an answer he finds acceptable, one that can put a smile on his face before darkness finally warshes over. Hopefully it will do so for us as well.