Now Teaching: The Big Lebowski

urlWhat you want to do, when everything else is going to hell and you sort of want to do nothing, is to realize that you don’t want to do nothing. You just maybe want to become a little bit more like the Dude. Because sometimes there’s a man who, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that’s the Dude, in Los Angeles. And even if he’s a lazy man– and the Dude was most certainly that. Quite possibly the laziest in Los Angeles County, which would place him high in the running for laziest worldwide. But sometimes, there’s a man… Sometimes, there’s a man…

Ms. Cooper
Film Studies
April, 2016

One of the major themes we have looked at this year across a wide range of works has been the realities—and illusions—of the so-called “American Dream”. You will recall our many warm-ups and classroom discussions, as well as cinematic presentations, that have touched upon this theme, from The Great Gatsby to The Lovely Bones, to the broader body of work by actor Al Pacino, to Meru and the exploration of the most extreme places on our planet, and even segments from the popular show This American Life.

Today we continue our study of the American Dream from a different and somewhat disillusioned point of view. Let’s face it—things don’t always work out the way we would hope. We’re often in places and situations we would rather not be in. Misunderstandings and confusion is everywhere! Clarity, peace, and mutual understanding, well, that’s in pretty short supply.

So I am happy to share with you one of the best films to examine this sense of disillusionment and frank disappointment in American society, The Big Lebowski. A masterpiece of the filmmaking team of two brothers, Joel and Ethan Coen, The Big Lebowski explores themes of disappointment, abandonment, ambition, and resignation in the context of a seemingly apathetic world and nation.

Filmmaker Joel Coen has described the film as “having a hopelessly complex plot that is ultimately unimportant.” In 2014, the National American Film Registry added The Big Lebowski to its list of films deemed to be of “cultural, historical, and aesthetic significance.” It has been heralded with numerous awards and far-reaching recognition for its capture of American society at both its best and, perhaps, its worst, and has even been cited by Texas Supreme Court Justice Debra Lehrmann in her opinion on Kinney v. Barnes, an important freedom of speech case. It is not too much to say that, since its release in 1998, The Big Lebowski has continued to raise key questions about what it means to be American, free, and in control of one’s life.

As we watch this film, look out for the major themes that appear and the ways they are treated—are they being made fun of? Are they being taken seriously? What, in American culture, is sacred? What is being mocked? Why? The Big Lebowski seeks to turn everything on its head and, for the most part, it does.

We will keep up our warm-ups and short writing assignments as we continue our study of the “American Dream”, but you may find yourself struggling with or even rejecting your earlier notions of this concept as we watch this film. This is a good thing! We will discuss.

And above all– Enjoy!