Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Blue Dude & Red Walter: The Big Lebowski Revisited

Watching the Big Lebowski last night as a salve to my wounds over the sad state of this country and its Iraqi conflict and Bush's "it's not true if I close my ears" attitude towards global warming, I came to a blissful realization... the only way out of our dilemma is to for blue and red states to come together in a dysfunctional brotherly hug of forgiveness and tolerance.

If you haven't seen the film, do so right now and don't waste anymore time reading this blog. But irregardless of whether you have seen this masterwork or not, you have LIVED it, in the sense of being alive on this planet in this particular century. The key relationship in the film is between the Dude (Jeff Bridges), an easygoing pothead (i.e. blue states) and former student protester and his bowling partner Walter (John Goodman), a paranoid psychotic red state-type Vietnam vet. The plot has the Dude lured into some byzantine kidnapping scheme between a millionare and his nymphomaniac trophy wife. Julianne Moore plays the millionare's artsy daughter (the Lauren Bacall part, for this is, in its fractured way, a remake of THE BIG SLEEP).

As a sharp blogger points out in Themuy, there are plenty of odd connections in the film, set during the original Gulf War, and our current beswamped "Vietnam Redux" of today.

i originally saw this in the theater and was sorely unamused by it-- I found Goodman's character hard to endure. Why was an easygoing dude like the Dude hanging out with this psychopath? In the intervening decade since I've had the wisdom and time to make peace with my gun-toting redneck brother out in Arizona, so I realize that a lot of my fear and loathing stemmed from being "related" to stuff I don't understand or have contempt for. (I realized his passion for cars and firearms was no better or worse than my passion for women and mind-altering substances.) Dude, I am losing my train of thought here. The point is, Dude and Walter are joined at the hip, they are aspects of one self, the blue and red states of America. Dude lacks the aggression and oomph to confront situations head-on, losing himself in the THC fog of liberal idealism. He needs the gun packing muscle of Walter to sort things out, but at the same time, Walter fucks up EVERYTHING he touches. He's the bull in the china shop. He's the ugly American tourist reason the French are snobby towards us. Everyone in the world hates us because of sanctimonious paranoiacs like Walter.

And yet, we can't get rid of him. We love him and need him, as ugly and overweight and violent as he is. The way Walter fucks up all the schemes the dude tries to pull off is indicative of the nature of the current Iraqi conflict. Walter rides into the situation blinded by his righteous American sunglasses of freedom, confident in his girth and bluster to roar him through. Instead he gets bogged hopelessly down and even as it happens, he stays chipper and confident, at least on the outside.

The scary thing is, how little has changed. We are exactly where we were in Vietnam except now the American youth are apathetic, ignorant, slack-jawed and too busy getting drunk and disorderly to challenge the system, and who can blame them? If the protests of the late 1960s taught us anything, it's that protests don't work, at least not when it comes to war. Once a pitbull like Walter sinks his fangs in, he doesn't let go until he's exhausted every last cent out of the treasury and left 3/4 of the country he's invaded completely destroyed. (at which point he slinks off like a guilty kid to avoid having to "clean up the mess" ala the Marshall Plan).

In its frothy way, the Big Lebowski is a satirical jab at American idealism, but it's truly affectionate, pointing the way towards a solution to the national split. Walter may be psycho but he believes in something. It's the nihlists who are the real threat... with their intellectual attitude that nothing matters: "Relax Donny, their nihlists, they don't belive in anything." For Walter, for the Muslim and Christian fundamentalists and for the neo-conservative constitution-shredder we currently call a government, it's the believing that makes one dangerous... but is being too cool to have a cause really the answer? The fact is, blue and red are dependent - we define ourselves on what we are not, and without each other, we would not exist. So lay down your tear gas, America, and give your "other state" foe a bear hug instead... after all, we're Americans, together! Ugly or gorgeous, richer or poorer (and getting more so every second), thick or thin, drug-addled or high on Jesus, it's all good, baby. The dude abides.

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