Thursday, February 11, 2010

You're Not Dealing with Morons Here


The first time one watches The Big Lebowski, the most relatable character is usually Donny. We feel like we're constantly missing pieces of conversations, always playing catch-up, trying to make sense of the story. We are always frustratingly "out of our element." And by the end, we feel pretty dead. Not sure what we just went through, we can only remember a cluster of swear words and trippy dream sequences.

If anyone has the nerve to watch it again, it's still confusing, but a lot funnier. We catch repetitions and parallels that glazed over us before, and we can admit, "that was a great movie." Then by the third viewing, it's one of the funniest films of all time, and we can just about understand the plot.

I've probably watched this movie over a hundred times, and every time I catch something new. The Coen brothers hide so much comedy under the surface of confusion and assumption. And once one realizes this, there's a lot of fun to be had with their films. The game is without rules, and so there's a lot that can be gathered from making one's own assumptions about conflicts and events.

The Coen brothers know that movie watchers love to make assumptions. Viewers are often like Donny: "like a child who wanders into the middle of a movie." When Walter says the word "pederast," Donny asks what that is. I don't know about other viewers, but when I first heard this word, I was with Donny. I thought Walter said "petter-ass." And, I thought to myself, "yeah, what's a petter ass?"

If you google "petter ass," urban dictionary defines it: "Pedophile. One who sexually enjoys innocent youth as opposed to those their age." This is actually the definition of pederast, but the second definition in urban dictionary is more interesting: "Misspelling of the word 'pederast' made popular by The Big Lebowski. Webster's defines it as "one who practices anal intercourse especially with a boy.""

This is funny, right? The Coens are constantly mixing up inane, foul language with high-minded vocabulary that deadbeats don't regularly make usage of. The Big Lebowski is a movie about confusion. So from the get-go, assumptions must be made. Jeffrey Lebowski's home is invaded by two strangers who enact violence upon him based on misappropriated assumption. He is Jeffrey Lebowski, yes, but there is another Jeffrey Lebowski (and who knows, maybe even a third somewhere.)

My most recent realization came after watching the scene in which Dude and Walter convict Larry Sellers of stealing Dude's car and briefcase. Now, there's no reason to think that Larry didn't do these things, however, Larry never actually admits to any of this. They do indeed find the homework of someone named Larry Sellers in the Dude's car when he retrieves it, but this one piece of evidence may not be the proof of anything.

The Dude and Walter assume that this Larry Sellers is indeed the Larry Sellers they think him to be. But what if, just as in the first scene in the movie at the Dude's apartment, what if they had the wrong Larry Sellers?

Dude and Walter say things like, "We KNOW this your homework! We KNOW you stole the car! We KNOW you stole the money!" But, they actually don't know any of these things. They jump to conclusions before they have any definitive evidence--just like the thugs at the beginning of the movie.

What's more fascinating, if one were to google "larry sellers," they'll discover an imdb page for a Native American stuntman. The whole spin about Larry being the son of Arthur Digby Sellers, the writer of the bulk of the TV show, Branded, is totally fictional. When Walter says that he wrote 156 episodes, he is amazingly wrong. There were only two seasons of Branded, a total of 48 episodes. So wherever Walter is getting his information is not reliable. Is it possible the information he got on Larry Sellers is all misinformed as well? Absolutely! But not certainly.

(Another funny little connection: Branded was created by Larry Cohen. Not Coen, Cohen.)

In the story, we never find out exactly what happened to the Dude's car and briefcase. Like the Dude and Walter, we can only make assumptions. The possibility for any "leads" is laughable. The action comes when characters act upon hunches.

But the parallel is funny either way. Two guys come into the Dude's house and yell, "Where's the fuckin' money!" And then an hour into the movie, two guys come into Larry Sellers' house and yell, "Where's the fuckin' money!" It's very possible that there is another Larry Sellers out there somewhere, that Walter got bad information, and the unwarranted destruction of a stranger's property ensued. (Barely audible, Walter even mumbles as he comes out the door to destroy the corvette, "We've got a language problem here.")

And the rule of threes brings the line back one more time, at the end of the movie. Dude and Walter confront Lebowski and the dude again yells, "Where's the fuckin' money!" And, full circle, we still don't have a clear answer. Lebowski even says, "you have your story, I have mine." This is actually true. We don't know where the money is, we don't know where any of it is. From the money the two thugs at the start of the film are looking for, to the ransom money.

The assumption game is a lot of fun to play with the Coens. Lebowski isn't their only film that does this either, A Serious Man is steeped in surmises. I don't know if Larry Sellers stole the car, but the possibility of Walter being misinformed just tickles me. The art of the possible may be politics, but the Coens sure make their version of it a lot more fun.

1 comment:

the fatted calf said...

This is a very complicated case, Maude. You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-yous. And, uh, lotta strands to keep in my head, man. Lotta strands in old Duder's head. Luckily I'm adhering to a pretty strict, uh, drug regimen to keep my mind limber.