Ktismatics

1 March 2008

The Big Lebowski, 1998

Filed under: Ktismata, Movies — ktismatics @ 1:49 pm

lebow jesus

lebow saddam

lebow girls

lebow nihilists

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36 Comments »

  1. I’d be interested in your full interpretation with this film. I saw it twice, liked it, but couldn’t quite pin down why. This must be my lack of knowledge about the American 1960s culture, as well as a generation gap. I did understand that the hero is an aging hippie who nevertheless maintains some spiritus movens, though I don’t know in what way.

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    Comment by parodycenter — 1 March 2008 @ 9:37 pm

  2. I think a fitting Jameson comment would work here – pastiche and the Coen’s inability to avoid the self-afflicting postmodern curve ball. Not that I agree with any of that (unless, well, these were screenshots of The Man Who Wasn’t There</b), but it’s interesting to try to collate these things.

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    Comment by Seyfried — 1 March 2008 @ 9:38 pm

  3. Fucking markup.

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    Comment by Seyfried — 1 March 2008 @ 9:39 pm

  4. http://www.lebowskitheory.com/frameset.html

    This looks interesting.

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    Comment by Seyfried — 1 March 2008 @ 9:40 pm

  5. There are some great scenes in this movie and some snappy dialog, the characters are all stereotypes and the plot is ridiculous. It seems like self-indulgence by the Coens, who expend extravagant talent on a vacuous project. Still, it is pretty funny — sort of an updated Abbott and Costello goofball comedy, a “guy movie” for sure. Jeff Bridges as the Dude conveys a sense of slightly bummed-out impotent mellowness throughout every crisis and indignity heaped upon him, while his pal the John Goodman character, a perpetually enraged Vietnam vet, generates the energy for the Dude’s’ aggressive yet hapless schemes. Are these two guys supposed to represent America during Gulf War One, responding to Saddam’s provocation with a half-hearted sissy retaliation that succeeds in gaining neither money nor revenge nor control? Maybe, but the Dude’s instinctive passivity seems like the most appropriate response to every situation, and if he hadn’t let himself get provoked into reacting everything would have taken care of itself. He and his buddies would have continued frittering away their time at the bowling alley, never fooling themselves into believing they could make a difference if they’d just make up their minds to do something.

    The plot is built on a case of mistaken identity. The Dude’s name is Jeff Lebowski, and early in the film some mob enforcers show up at his apartment trying to intimidate him into paying off his debts. But it’s not him they’re looking for but rather another Jeff Lebowksi, the eponymous BIG Lebowski, a corporate tycoon who extols industry and corporate largesse in third world countries but whose trophy wife is living beyond her means and racking up huge debts she can’t pay off. It turns out the Big Lebowski is a cripple and a fraud — he’s living off his first wife’s money. So even the unambitious Dude’s corporate double isn’t a self-made man: his hard-working Republican image is just a ruse, and if it wasn’t for his inability to rein in his wife’s consumerist extravagances none of the shit would have hit the fan in the first place. The Dude doesn’t do much, but his lifestyle is low-budget and he’s pretty content.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 2 March 2008 @ 12:35 am

  6. marder movie

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    Comment by dionysusstoned — 2 March 2008 @ 4:18 am

  7. At one point the Dude says he was a member of the Seattle Seven, which was a group of radical antiwar activists that got caught blowing up a building or some such thing back around 1970. In the Dude’s apartment he has a photo of Richard Nixon bowling. Walter, the John Goodman character, is a Vietnam vet, still reliving the war, ready to take offense at every slight. This is 1998, several years after Gulf War One, and Walter is still pissed at Saddam, wants to go back into Iraq and kick his ass. No way the Seattle Seven Dude would have been friends with this guy, unless he’d finally said “fuck it, let’s go bowling.” It’s a political position not only of radical nonintervention, but of profound indifference.

    Interestingly also, the BIG Lebowski, the purported corporate tycoon who berates the Dude for being a bum, looks just like Dick Cheney. Cheney is kind of an invalid with a bad heart. During Vietnam he was an advocate of the war but managed to get six years of college deferments instead of the usual four. IN his private sector career Cheney was CEO of Haliburton, which has made a lot of money as a military contractor during Bush Jr.’s reign. As the Secretary of Defense during the Bush Sr. administration Cheney directed “Operation Desert Storm” = Gulf War One.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 2 March 2008 @ 7:58 am

  8. What do you like about it DS? The filmmaking excellence, the entertainment value, the Dude as role model?

    The Dude is a master of taking his ease: potential but no passions, no interests, no cultivation of abiilty, no performance — except bowling. So I think about the Coens making this movie, which displays the results of their considerable talents toward no particular worthwhile purpose, and it seems like a frivolous waste — like bowling. Everybody in the movie who displays self-motivation just ends up making a bigger mess of things for themselves and everyone else. Is this Coen’s message to America: become a stoned Dionysus, and find your passion even if everybody tells you you’re wasting your life?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 2 March 2008 @ 7:08 am

  9. it seemed to have been some kind of a generational movie for the 1968ers but I’m not sure how, I was hoping for that sort of an explanation. By the way that reader who demanded the Decalogue and then didn’t show up must be punished, and I mean it!!!

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    Comment by parodycenter — 2 March 2008 @ 8:15 am

  10. This is a Clinton-era movie that recognizes the fascistic desire for revenge and the neocons’ corporate-military interventionism that would soon propel Bush Jr. and Cheney into office. What 1968 means for France and the rest of Europe is I think different from what it meant in the USA, where anti-Vietnam War protests dominated and drove all the other counter-cultural movements. War and antiwar are the backgrounds of the Dude and Walter, references to Saddam are sprinkled throughout the movie, and then there’s this military-industrial Dick Cheney figure as the antagonist.

    The movie soundtrack begins with the old cowboy song Tumbling Tumbleweed, the camera work begins with a tumbleweed rolling through the Western dry prairie, eventually rolling into modern LA. There’s a narrative voice-over provided by a guy with a cowboy vocal cadence who introduces the Dude as a kind of exemplary figure. Later this guy shows up at the bar in the bowling alley and tells the Dude how much he admires his laid-back attitude. I think this otherwise-extraneous cowboy is meant to contrast the Hollywood John Wayne tough-guy cowboy with the easygoing ordinary cowboys who just rode along with the herd by day and shot the shit around the campfire by night. Dude invokes that other cowboy legend, whereas the BIG Lebowski Cheney clone is trying to embody the John Wayne cowboy image to himself and the world.

    PC, your punishment ethos is consistent with Walter’s combative M.O., whereas I’m more prone to adopt the Dude’s hippie attitude about it. Besides, I’ve only posted on the first installment of Dekalog — there are 9 more to come (not that I’ll necessarily do them all — only if I can be bothered).

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    Comment by ktismatics — 2 March 2008 @ 8:43 am

  11. eish bru! i said it was a marder movie. i can’t really think of anything else to say. I liked it mostly because i laughed till i couldn’t breath while watching it.

    but if i was forced to comment on the movie, i’d probably say something like…

    maybe the greatest tragedy of the globalisation of american consumer culture (think society of the spectacle) is that even society’s outsiders, the stoners and rebels, the gangsters, pimps and prostitutes, even the stone throwing anarchists, are given over to archetypes – models of what these forms of life should be – so that even our most intimate gestures see to mimic something from ‘the movies’. Even the subversive takes its form from the logic of the spectral image – for our time, the set of signs collected in what can be called the seattle cannon for instance (here i am thinking about movies like the 4th world war, the take, this is what democracy looks like, etc, as well as books like one no many yeses, or even ashwin desai’s ‘we are the poors’). What i like about the movie is precisely that “the characters are all stereotypes and the plot is ridiculous”…that is it fucks with these images, invoking them only underline their irreparable emptiness.

    But if one line running out of the movie ends in critique, its real force comes from what it affirms. The dude. Marderdom.

    three things strike me about the dude.

    1. his entire life is organized around refusal (of work, of consumer culture, etc) – a refusal that is founded on an ideological commitment, but threaded through subjectivity.
    2. although the dude is chilled, neither a policy maker or vote taker, you piss on his carpet, he is going to take yours

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    Comment by dionysusstoned — 2 March 2008 @ 10:04 am

  12. i forgot what the third thing was

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    Comment by dionysusstoned — 2 March 2008 @ 10:04 am

  13. Kits, you’ve covered a lot. Also, remember, that this movie says “fuck” more than any other movie (supposedly).

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    Comment by Seyfried — 2 March 2008 @ 10:05 am

  14. 1 sould have read:

    1 his entire life is organized around refusal (of work, of consumer culture, etc) – a refusal that is NOT founded on an ideological commitment, but threaded through subjectivity.

    bru, do you really have a kid learning to drive?

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    Comment by dionysusstoned — 2 March 2008 @ 10:19 am

  15. I agree. I don’t think the Dude is a Situationist-Marxist who doesn’t work as a refusal to contribute to capitalism’s hegemonic oppression of the working class. He just doesn’t see the point, since he’s content with getting high/drunk and bowling. I’m not sure where he gets his money to pay the rent and bar tabs and lane fees though.

    The Dude’s favorite drink, which he always seems to have in hand, is a White Russian, so if the derivation means anything he’s associating himself with the anti-Bolsheviks. He occasionally refers to this drink as a Caucasian: his name is Lebowski, presumably Polish, and his friend Walter is Polish Catholic — working-class ethnic white guys who like to drink and bowl. Oh, and then there’s this gang of German nihilists who purportedly kidnap the Big L’s wife Bunny. Walter is disgusted: “Nihilists! Fuck me. I mean, say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.” Near the end of the movie the nihilists torch the Dude’s car. (I’ll put up the screen shot.) Donny (the Steve Buscemi character) looking terrified, asks: “Are these the Nazis, Walter?” Walter replies, “No Donny, these men are nihilists, there’s nothing to be afraid of.” So no, I don’t think the bowling buddies are overtly leftist.

    “bru, do you really have a kid learning to drive?”

    Sure — I’m old but I’m, like, really immature.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 2 March 2008 @ 11:02 am

  16. “even our most intimate gestures see to mimic something from ‘the movies’. Even the subversive takes its form from the logic of the spectral image”

    I think that’s right. Every character in this movie is a stereotype, an cartoonish version of innumerable characters we’ve seen in other movies. This brings up the issue we talked about in Body Double: are these ridiculously exaggerated characters and situations to be regarded as parodies, or as sort of “meta-cinematic” maneuvers? Movies about “real life” exaggerate and simplify; movies like this one, framed inside cinematic spectacular space, take the exaggerations even farther. And at some point the prismatic effect of the double lens starts revealing something through the “hole in the silk.” And what you see is the hole in the silk itself, the “irreparable emptiness” as you say. It reveals is the simulacrum, the copy of the copy that, in the absence of an original, has become the real. I’m going to put up a quote in the upper left corner of the blog that I read last night that’s related to this phenomenon.

    “although the dude is chilled, neither a policy maker or vote taker, you piss on his carpet, he is going to take yours”

    Fucking A. The Dude has a sense of justice, regardless of the bullshit the BIG Lebowski slings at him about being a bum looking for a handout and how it wasn’t the Big L who took his carpet.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 2 March 2008 @ 11:28 am

  17. One keeps going back to the Videodrome, where Deborah Harry still awaits, luscious as ever. Come to Nikki. Don’t make me wait. That film marked the death of the illusion that the screen is ”fantasy” and our life ”reality”, rather that it’s the other way round.

    Clysmatics this morning I though that the scene in Body Double which shows you that it’s about an ontological rather than a psychological rupture is when Jake in the very beginning sees his wife fucking another guy (and mind you she’s on top, already compromising allegations of misogyny). What dissolves from that point onwards is not just Jake’s compromised potency, but also, the very illusion that reconciling reality levels makes the Trauma go away. When the camera makes a breathtaking circular ride in de scene d’amor you see that Jake’s obsession brings him to the realization that reality, not the movie, is eroding. This is something that Jonquille can’t understand, she keeps thinking that at her Cole Porter terrace, where she makes the best of her life as she can, is some kind of a ”reality” from which only nerdy internet addicts flee into the blogosphere.

    Dionysius on hard drugs, why don’t you join these discussions more often with your penetrating observations instead of lurking? Is the blog perhaps too R rated?

    Like

    Comment by parodycenter — 2 March 2008 @ 12:11 pm

  18. After watching BD,I wondered the extent of ‘artifice’ (Vertigo has this overtly similar effect, as well); the compromised potency of Scottie would have been the manipulative levels of false agency if the film would have revealed itself amidst the the death Madeleine. BD seemed to take this fear, interpreting Vertigo retroactively – like Dressed to Kill appears to take Hitchcock’s pathological diagnosis of Bates too seriously and hence we have an entire feature – and part of the joy of watching it was thinking I knew everything when I really knew nothing. I know much has been made of Hitchcock’s own stalking..of Oscar Wilde; the pre-cinematic feel of Vertigo seeps through the BD at times, only to be slashed by ontological ruptures and extreme-Interpretation or intertextual zealotry.

    “This brings up the issue we talked about in Body Double: are these ridiculously exaggerated characters and situations to be regarded as parodies, or as sort of “meta-cinematic” maneuvers?”

    The homaged post-modernist Wink was there, I guess. I was very much in hysterics to realize how we don’t envision Romanticized ‘following’ anymore; Scottie got away with it because of the profession, but in general, women find their anonymous lust through simulation and pornography, safely situated beneath the glass screen of the television or your binocular lens.

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    Comment by Seyfried — 2 March 2008 @ 1:16 pm

  19. heita,

    “Sure — I’m old but I’m, like, really immature.”

    ktismatics, that’s not really where i was going, but ok. I’m also learning to drive – or more precisely unlearning how to drive, so that i can pass the drivers test. So i was just thinking about my own inaptness (although i drive really well – handbrake turns, wheelies, the works) with respect to the whole life skills thing.

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    Comment by dionysusstoned — 2 March 2008 @ 1:18 pm

  20. “Dionysius on hard drugs, why don’t you join these discussions more often with your penetrating observations instead of lurking? Is the blog perhaps too R rated?”

    hey PC. I dunno. i’ve been struggling to write a response, cause i don’t want to seem like an asshole for not responding. but i really don’t know. i guess you can blame the time zone difference or the fact the discussions unfold quickly, meaning that when i get to a thread, its far to developed to really read (at least not without a substantial investment of time). So most of the time i just lack context cause the discussions here seem tightly layered, or about stuff i haven’t thought about. but i suspect i’ll say more…

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    Comment by dionysusstoned — 2 March 2008 @ 1:41 pm

  21. “Jake’s obsession brings him to the realization that reality, not the movie, is eroding.”

    Now these are movies after all, not reality-so-called. What I think happens is that the filmmakers consciously take the inevitable steps outside of reality in order to CREATE a reality inside the film. There’s an abandonment of realism for the sake of the fictional project, not like fantasy-scifi but like some parallel universe that’s reached via a portal through the movie itself. So while the Videodrome signal drags reality INSIDE the image, here you get the reality opening up somewhere BEHIND the image, through the looking glass. But this cine-reality perspective also suggests that real lives aren’t only discovered and revealed, as if they’re hidden beneath the artifice waiting to be unveiled. Lives, like movies, are also created, semi-fictional, UNDERdetermined, an interplay of real and fantasy and image that can generate something unprecedented. Now this might be American propaganda of the immanent whatever-being that feeds neoliberalism, but I think it’s heading somewhere else, I’m not sure where.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 2 March 2008 @ 2:29 pm

  22. Dionysus what’s up with your driving. Are you a new driver, or have you decided it’s time to get legal? Are you moving from motorcycle to car? You’ll note that embedded in PC’s question he compliments your penetrating observations. That’s a pretty rousing endorsement from PC.

    Seyfried you went all technical on me on that last comment, leaving me in the dust. So I’ll say this: I agree, but with qualifications.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 2 March 2008 @ 2:39 pm

  23. no, i have been driving for a loong time (car). But in SA, getting your license requires mastering an extremely defensive driving style. I didn’t learn to drive this way…so, in spite of driving better than most people i know, i have resisted going for a license. Anyway, you can get away with it (a small bribe usually does the trick). But its a pain, and it also means that if i smash into someone the insurance wont cover it. basically, its more than a decade overdue.

    “you’ll note that embedded in PC’s question he compliments your penetrating observations. That’s a pretty rousing endorsement from PC”

    ja, i suspect he will see through it soon. Although, tagged to the whole r rated thing, i thought it might even have been tongue-in-cheek, which would make more sense.

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    Comment by dionysusstoned — 2 March 2008 @ 3:08 pm

  24. “Seyfried you went all technical on me on that last comment, leaving me in the dust. So I’ll say this: I agree, but with qualifications.”

    Sorry, this flu medicine is making me all delirious and what not. eyes…hurt…so..much

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    Comment by Seyfried — 2 March 2008 @ 3:15 pm

  25. Go get some sleep Seyfried, you’ve done an excellent job; it’s not your fault I couldn’t track your last observations. DS, it must be getting pretty late where you are, so maybe that’s the end for you too today. As a side note, we used to live and work in St. Louis Park Minnesota, and our daughter was born there. This is also the home town of the Coen brothers.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 2 March 2008 @ 3:29 pm

  26. Thanks, Pops.

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    Comment by Seyfried — 2 March 2008 @ 3:58 pm

  27. I guess you’re not THAT sick.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 2 March 2008 @ 4:02 pm

  28. first of all, dude (the Doyle)…i’m about half way through the comments…and i think the film is more of a picture of america than a statement to america about what it should do…

    and…So even the unambitious Dude’s corporate double isn’t a self-made man: his hard-working Republican image is just a ruse, and if it wasn’t for his inability to rein in his wife’s consumerist extravagances none of the shit would have hit the fan in the first place.

    and lets not forget that the trophy wife…who was being pursued by her “real” family…wasn’t “really” kidnapped after all.

    and i liked the murder guy’s comments, too!! lol…the MAIN reson i like the movie is because i laughed till my stomach hurt. but i also like the part about the spectral image and archetypes ect. and i agree. i felt like the characters didn’t just fit “types” but…pointed to the empty hole that they are drawn from.

    …as for the germans who torched the car…”are these the nazis walter?” lets not forget…”walter! chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature!! asian american, plese!” later in the movie…”fucking chinaman.” then the excuse for knocking the shit out of the “these are just nihilist donnie, nothing to be afraid of” is “fucking anti-semite.” which, lol…this big german vietnam vet had “converted” to judaism!!! LOL!! you can’t do that!!

    I think happens is that the filmmakers consciously take the inevitable steps outside of reality in order to CREATE a reality inside the film. There’s an abandonment of realism for the sake of the fictional project…

    i TOTALLy agree…and i like the movie that way.

    But this cine-reality perspective also suggests that real lives aren’t only discovered and revealed, as if they’re hidden beneath the artifice waiting to be unveiled. Lives, like movies, are also created, semi-fictional, UNDERdetermined…

    again…i agree.

    PEACE and goofiness :)

    jason

    Like

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 3 March 2008 @ 10:25 pm

  29. forgot to mention…the wife…the play “bunny” (for herself or her husband?)…who wasn’t really missing because she wasn’t really kidnapped…was being sought by a less than real detective. its perfect!! why bother with a real detective for an un-real gal or who wasn’t really kidnapped AND actually came back “home” to her “husband”…(althogh dancing naked in the yard)…

    …if…the REAL “problem” is that she actually just plum chose to run away from her “real” family…

    i like the film because its so much ado about Nothin. “Nothing, Labowsky, nothing!!” as the german nazi/nihilis/anti-semite guy said when he was smashing labowsky’s phone after dropping the farrott in the bathtub and making “the right labowsky” go crazy and try to smack the farrott in the nose with the roach clips. for some reason the nazi/nighilist guy was in that scene wearing like a wet suit or something, too? not sure why, but it made me laugh.

    and btw the whole time i was travelling through europe i was quoting the entirety of this movie with the other goofier folk on the trip with the group :)

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 3 March 2008 @ 10:43 pm

  30. oh and lets not forget that the big labowsky was mad because the nihilist guys who believe in nothing didn’t get any money that didn’t exist because walter threw a ringer for a ringer, too!! more ado about nothing. ha ha.

    “what makes a man, labowsky? is it…bla bla bla?” “mmm, yeah…that and a pair of testacles.”

    “an’ i won’t say he’s a hero. cuz what’s a hero?…aahh…i lost ma dern concentration…now where was i?….o yeah…the war with sAdAm and the I-rAquis”…(meanwhile bush sr. is saying “we will not tolerate this bla bla hla” on TV and the smaller labowsky is writing a check for sixty seven cents).

    well i’ll say this. if labowsky’s not my hero…doyle…you are :) but i think labowsky might be, though, so you might be sol.

    wait…what’s a hero?

    :)

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 3 March 2008 @ 10:51 pm

  31. Jason, good to hear your thoughts on the Big L. I remembered this was one of your favorites from when in your indolent LA phase you used to hang out at the ktismatics bowling alley. It sounds like you and Dionysus see eye to eye on this one: it’s an extended goofoff. However, while you claim that it’s more about what America is than what it ought to be, you do regard the small Lebowski as a personal hero. Is this just an idiosyncratic response on your part, or by creating this character are the Coens offering up a weird sort of ideal about how one ought to live in America?

    I liked all your thoughts about the utter nothingness of the plot. All of it’s premised on a mistake, which leads to a fraud, which leads to a scam, etc. etc. and nobody gets anything out of any of it. The only victim is the poor nihilist chick who sacrifices one of her toes for the advancement of their futile extortion plot. Everything, from the mild amusements of bowling to being a corporate tycoon to the madcap adventure of the plot, is really nothing, but at least it keeps you occupied. Maybe blogs too.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 4 March 2008 @ 5:16 am

  32. lol i’m going with idiosynchratic response. although i should go look up the word “idiosynchratic”! but i will say that my time of sitting around and watching that movie a gazillion times was DEFINITELY “extended goof off time.” but i would also say that it was a peculiar brand of Hesmaniak goof off time! involving some jokes that some might either not get or not care about.

    and yes…lol THE TOE!! the toe…is like the icon of the movie. the clue into what’s really happening (if you stop goofing off for a second…i mean…uuhh…if you suspend your belief in the reality being crafted by the artist (albeit with his fingers crossed behind his back)). like the little smiling zombie in the bottom left hand corner of michelangelo’s “the last judgement.”

    i think the cowboy’s…randomness, maybe…is like the other clue that belonged on the bottom right hand corner of “the last judgement” but never made it there. uummm…the figurative double of the toe. the nihilist/nazi/anti-semite gal’s left pinky toe, i guess, ha ha. think about that for a second. the nazi woman’s right pinky toe is a sacrafice. her left pinky toe is a lost cowboy. lol.

    :)

    did anything i just said MEAN anything?? a melting pot of words, i guess.

    :)

    Like

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 4 March 2008 @ 6:20 am

  33. I finally read the movie interpretation from Seyfried’s link on comment #4. Written by someone named Lisa Donald, it’s a long interpretation based on gender theory, which I found provocative and probably accurate. She concludes: “As the myth of manhood continues to be deconstructed, men may be able to release the steady grip on their testicles that they have held for centuries, thereby allowing healthy circulation to the weak phallus of male identity, mapping out new male territory where they can be both confident and erect.” Nice sentence.

    She regards all the men in this movie as emasculated. She also sees the rug in the Dude’s apartment, as well as the Persian rug he lifts from the Big Lebowski’s office, as symbolic of woman. The men fight over these rugs as if they’re male property, but it turns out that the Big L’s rug really belonged to his first wife, the real source of money and power in the family. So who ends up with that rug? The Big L’s daughter, the radical feminist.

    All of that sounds right, but Donald’s reading strikes me as a challenge for the men to get it up again. Within the military subtext, which Donald acknowledges, I presume she’s not proposing that American men redirect their sexual aggressions into foreign “affairs.” We’re left to decide whether the Dude remains emasculated, or whether he represents a new model of American non-macho masculinity — or both.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 6 March 2008 @ 5:28 am

  34. Hey, who says bowling is a “frivolous waste”?

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    Comment by spike — 30 September 2009 @ 9:11 am

  35. Did someone actually say that in this thread, spike? Whoever it was must not have expected you to show up here. Then again, who says that “frivolous waste” is a bad thing?

    Like

    Comment by john doyle — 30 September 2009 @ 12:59 pm


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