Full disclosure: I’ve seen The Big Lebowski at least twice before and massively enjoyed it both times.
That said, this time was no different.
The Big Lebowski is actually more enjoyable every time I see it and it always seems to have twists and turns I forget that make me marvel at how such an odd movie comes together so well. It’s hilarious, it’s pseudo-philosphical, it’s got action and some coitus and of course it’s got The Dude, Jeffery Lebowski (played by Jeff Bridges).
Jeffery, or The Dude, as he prefers, is a simple man who is unemployed and scoffs at questions of “what he does”. He gets asked this at least three times throughout the movie and generally treats the question as an annoyance. That’s the sort of life I think we should all aim for in the long run. Treating work as something to scoff at and ignore.
Instead, The Dude spends his time bowling, taking relaxing baths, driving around, making money from millionaires through seemingly contrived kidnapping deals, etc. It’s all pretty simple and it gets pretty complex, pretty fast.
When finishing this movie I’m not sure there’s much meaning to take away from the film. There’s no real winners or losers in some moralistic sense. The Dude’s rampant slacking is objected to multiple times throughout the film but the film itself makes no real commentary on whether it’s worth objecting to or not.
Within the movie we don’t see any people working jobs they hate and the employers of the other main characters are either never mentioned, obvious or presumed to be themselves. That last bit is especially the case for the very rich people that The Dude happens to find himself around at times. It almost seems like the movie sometimes makes a sort of commentary on what riches can do to you (e.g. make you a jerk) but if so, it’s rather vague.
The real star of the show (at least for me) is Vietnam veteran Walter Sobchak (played by John Goodman). He’s an absolute madman who would raise his pistol up if it meant getting to the next round of a bowling league. His impetuousness consistently gets The Dude and everyone around him into trouble, despite his best(?) intentions.
One pet interpretation I have of Goodman’s character is that the costs of war lead to violent-crazed people via PTSD and that Goodman’s character could be seen as a passive meditation on what happens to veterans. That doesn’t say anything about anti-work or whether this movie will make you want to quit your job, but truth be told, there’s not a lot to say there.
While the movie certainly makes a rather lazy case for living like The Dude, he also seems to have his problems.
A barely working car, friends you are often dependent on, having an easily broken into home, being late on the rent and thus having to go to your landlords odd interpretation of a “play”, not having easy access to rugs that you want so you can tie your place together, aesthetically I mean. On the other hand, The Dude doesn’t seem to mind much of this most of the time. Sure, there are moments he gets stressed but these are in the minority and it’s very un-Dude.
Most of the time, The Dude takes it easy, or as easy as you can when nihilists are after you.
But when he can, The Dude goes bowling to meditate on his issues with his friends. Or he’ll listen to some bowling tapes and lay on the floor and relax. Maybe he’ll just chat with his friends and enjoy a drink, whatever he is doing The Dude is going to abide and he is going to abide as slothfully as possible.
Honestly, there’s not much of a case I even need to make for this movie having relevance to anti-work. The Dude is an unemployed hero(?) whose slack-filled life is hardly judged, if judged at all. He tries to keep it cool and doesn’t try to let other people boss him around (especially police chiefs) but he also doesn’t really wanna meddle with other folks either.
I can’t say this movie makes me want to quit my job, but maybe it will for you. Maybe it will make you appreciate the qualities of slacking that you missed before. Or perhaps you’ll be too distracted by the many “ins and outs” of the main story to really focus on the “messages” of this movie. That’d be an understandable “problem” to have.
The Dude is so relevant to slacking, taking it easy, etc. they have an entire philosophy based partially on Taoism and Epicurianism called Dudeism. There have been multiple books published about this philosophy and even The Dude’s actor (Jeff Bridges) helped co-write a book on The Dude and zen a few years back.
At the end of the movie The Stranger says that he takes a certain comfort in the fact that people like The Dude (“quite possibly the laziest man in LA county”) is around and doing his own thing. That’s something he can take solace in, that there’s someone who is just trying to live his own life and trying to take it easy.
This is the closest the movie explicitly comes to praising The Dude and his lifestyle but it’s good enough for me.
And look, it doesn’t really matter whether this movie makes you want to quit your job or not. It doesn’t matter if you get much out of The Dude, e.g. whether he’s an absurdist hero or not. Really, all that matters is that you watch this movie because it’s a lot of fun and it pays homage to the joys of slacking in interesting and hilarious ways.
I think that’s enough for any movie to accomplish.
I don’t know about you, but this is a movie I take a lot of comfort in.
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