The Dude Abides

“Only the losers win because they’ve got nothing to prove. They’ll leave the world with nothing to lose.” – Jon Foreman

“The Dude abides.” – The Dude

Last Monday, I rented The Big Lebowski and watched it on my iPhone. It’s a movie that didn’t seem to make too much sense. The main character is a 40-year-old free spirit (or bum, depending on which term you prefer) who bowls, drives around, and has the occasional acid flashback. On top of that, he calls himself “The Dude.” Let’s just say this guy wasn’t really the hero that I and so many others are used to seeing on screen.

Nonetheless, we are expected to watch The Dude live for a few days. At least long enough to get to see his story. Everyone around The Dude is obsessed with money, status, and power, but The Dude doesn’t buy into it. It never goes into his philosophical reasoning for being the way he is, but it seems he just doesn’t give a shit about what he’s supposed to be. Instead, he likes bowling, White Russians, and laying down listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival on his rug in the living room. The Dude abides.

What struck me about The Big Lebowski is that The Dude was a Christ-like figure. First, he refuses to engage in violence; second, he is naturally on the victim’s side. The Dude just uses a few more F-bombs than the one he’s imitating. In one scene, The Dude’s friend, Smokey, steps over the line on his turn bowling. Next, The Dude’s bowling partner, Walter, confronts Smokey saying, “Smokey, mark a zero. You stepped over the line.” Smokey looks at him in protest, “I didn’t step over the line, man. Mark an eight.” This escalates, and eventually, Walter pulls out his gun on Smokey and says, “Has the whole world gone F’ing crazy?! Am I the only one who cares about the rules?”

The Dude says to Walter in the parking lot, “Why’d you do that to Smokey, man? He’s a pacifist like me, and he’s got like…emotional problems!” Walter says, “More emotional problems than being a pacifist?” 

In the movie, Walter can’t believe someone wouldn’t retaliate against someone for crossing the line. The theme comes up over and over again in the film.

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. 

From the story of Cain and Abel to the story of The Big Lebowski, man has always found a way to make another his rival. Some call it jealousy, and others call it greed. These are both parts of how we screw it up with each other. Lately, I’ve been looking into a man’s theory named Rene Girard. This guy Girard, calls the human tendency to see his neighbor enjoying something, desire what his neighbor has, and compete with his neighbor for that object as Mimetic Theory. In Girard’s point of view, people don’t naturally desire much, but we copy the people around us. This is a massive problem because it leads to violence if unchecked because we are all competing over things we don’t really need in the first place. From the Egyptians to the folks in Salem, human civilizations have found refuge through one thing, and that is a common enemy. In the time of The Big Lebowski, it was Saddam Hussein. We all remember what happened to that guy. I was sure as Hell glad to be an American the day he died, and I wasn’t alone. 

The point is we’ve always loved to have a scapegoat. They are nice because it’s good for us to be on the same team and rack up some points for the good guys. Because we are the good guys…right? Oh shit.

Jesus came, and that was the first time we could look at ourselves in the story and have that “Oh shit” moment. The thing is, all those witches we killed in Salem didn’t stop the civil war from happening or any other instance of violence. They couldn’t because our solution for bringing order was not loving our neighbor but murdering him. The problem is that none of the people we sacrificed to shift our blame on could tell us that they were innocent, and if they could, we wouldn’t have believed it. Jesus was the first scapegoat we realized was innocent, which completely changed the course of history. Now, we can’t justify our violence and aren’t ignorant about where it comes from. Now, our only choice is to put the piece down in the bowling alley. Love each other or kill each other. The stakes are pretty high.

In the Big Lebowski, The Dude refuses to fight. The Dude refuses to let competition escalate to violence like everyone else. The Dude bowls because he likes it, and he’s not using it to raise his status. Let’s be honest; if he was trying to do that, Wall Street would be a better option. The movie does make me wonder, “Where is The Dude now? Is he ok?” How will he be successful in a world where he is destined to be misunderstood? The answer is he probably won’t be, but then again, he was never trying to be successful in the first place.

Regardless, The Dude abides. And he’s racking up some points for the good guys. Smokey, go ahead and put down an eight.

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Max Yelken

A young man looking for a sustainable life of adventure in a changing world.

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