E20 -

Julian Sanchez & Akiva Malamet join the show to discuss the essence of the Coen Brothers’ famous character; The Dude.

Hosts
Landry Ayres
Senior Producer
Guests

Research fellow Julian Sanchez focuses primarily on issues at the busy intersection of technology, privacy, civil liberties, and new media — but also writes more broadly about political philosophy and social psychology. Before joining Cato, Sanchez served as the Washington Editor for the technology news site Ars Technica, where he covered surveillance, intellectual property, and telecom policy. Prior to that, he was an assistant editor for Reason magazine, where he remains a contributing editor. Sanchez’s writing has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The American Prospect, Reason, The Guardian, Techdirt, The American Spectator, and Hispanic, among others, and he blogs regularly forThe Economist’s Democracy in America. Sanchez studied philosophy and political science at New York University.

Akiva Malamet is an MA student in Philosophy and the program in Political and Legal Thought at Queen’s University, Kingston. He holds a BA in Government from the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel. His writing has appeared in Liberal Currents, Lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org, and other publications. He was a winner of the 2018 ‘Carl Menger Undergraduate Essay Contest’ from the Society for the Development of Austrian Economics.

Summary:

The Big Lebowski has spurred a cult‐​like following revolving around The Dude. In 1998 the Coen brothers released “The Big Lebowski” and the theaters were half‐​empty. The movie was a follow up to their Oscar‐​winning film “Fargo”. The movie follows a dopey but profound slacker noir about a guy — a conscientious objector to all human conflict — whose quest to avenge a soiled rug unravels into a wild goose chase involving all sorts of inherent vice.

Transcript

[music]

0:00:03 Landry Ayres: Welcome to Pop & Locke. I’m Landry Ayres.

0:00:06 Natalie Dowzicky: And I’m Natalie Dowzicky.

0:00:07 Landry Ayres: Joining us today to discuss the 1998 Coen Brothers classic, Odyssey of the Dude, The Big Lebowski, our senior fellow at the Cato Institute, Julain Sanchez.

0:00:18 Julian Sanchez: Ahoy.

0:00:18 Natalie Dowzicky: [chuckle]

0:00:19 Landry Ayres: And MA student in Philosophy at Queen’s University, Akiva Malamet.

0:00:24 Akiva Malamet: Abiding, everyone.

0:00:26 Landry Ayres: So the first time that we see a character in this movie, The Big Lebowski, is a slow zoom in, in the dairy aisle of the grocery store where we see Jeff Bridges’ character, The Dude, looking at cartons of half and half for his… What we will learn to be favorite drink, white Russians, and we hear the warm, raspy, southern drawl of Sam Elliot as The Stranger, the narrator of the movie, say that, “The Dude is a man for his time and place.” What do you think he means by that? What about the world and the city of Los Angeles and the time that it came out in? Does The Dude exemplify or neatly fit into that makes him a man for his time and place?

0:01:23 Julian Sanchez: In a place, certainly, this is a very Los Angeles movie, although it’s kind of an alternate Los Angeles. As Coen Brothers movies go into one of the… A lot of their movies are actually very situated in a particular American locale, and this one is a very much a movie of Los Angeles. I think actually the only scenes that were not shot on location in LA were in non‐​real locations with the dream sequences and Lebowski’s apartment, The Dude’s apartment is a set, but otherwise it’s all sort of real places in LA. But it’s not the sort of the LA we usually see in movies, it’s not the kind of the glittering, Hollywood LA. It’s Pasadena, Venice Beach, it’s the sort of less glitzy, kind of slacker LA. It’s the In and Out burger. And time… You know, I don’t… Time… I don’t know as much as place, maybe just the sort of the slacker cliche of the early 90s, right, we think of the early 90s as sort of the time of the slacker. One of the retro seminal movies of the time is Richard Linklater’s movie with that title, but right, so everyone in this movie is very much a kind of person you would meet in LA. You would not run into The Dude and Jackie Treehorn in Manhattan, exactly.

0:03:00 Julian Sanchez: So it is a film that is very much of its place. I don’t know about of its time, to the same extent, although it was filmed only a few years after the time it’s set in. I don’t know to what extent the Gulf War backdrop really adds that much beyond, it being something for Walter to get angry about.

0:03:23 Akiva Malamet: So I think it’s interesting that we’re talking about the time and place stuff to start with, because one of the things that’s always struck me about The Big Lebowski and the Coen Brothers movies is that to some extent, the time and place that they set their movies in are important, but to some extent, they’re not. And I have the same feeling when watching another one of my favorite movies, and Coen Brothers movies, which is Barton Fink, which is set in LA in the sort of 30s, 40s era of big Hollywood movies, especially the area of many, a lot of very formulaic B‐​movies and it follows the career of this erstwhile screenwriter.

0:04:03 Akiva Malamet: And in both of those cases, the setting isn’t really about having you feel like you’re really in this place, it’s kind of like a mythic version of that place. Whether that’s the kind of, like, slacker, Gulf War, 90s vibe of The Big Lebowski, or of the kind of 40s, Hollywood screenwriter feeling, is that it feels very real, and it feels very kind of gritty and not glitzy, but it also doesn’t feel too specific to the time that the characters that you meet feel like people that you could experience in a lot of different times and places, even if they existed in a particular setting that they’re existing in and you’re supposed to experience them, I think partially as real people, but partially as archetypes. So there’s an interesting way in which the Coen Brothers in general, make people that are mythological, but also very grounded, that kind of makes the storytelling interesting because it feels like a real story, but it also feels like it’s more than just a regular story.

0:05:06 Natalie Dowzicky: I also think that an important part, especially of this movie, I can’t speak to the other movie or just talking about Akiva, but I think for this movie, I even wrote down a question that says, like, does The Big Lebowski take place in our world? Or is it kind of in an alternate understanding of like what Julain was saying, like a different part of LA that we don’t normally see, especially in movies. And I think that kind of just emphasizes the fact that the characters and their relationships to each other as well as their personality are a much bigger drawing point for the audience in this movie than the actual plot, or the place, or what’s going on around them, because this whole essence of The Dude and his dude‐​ness has garnered this cult‐​like following, and that’s what people have remembered from the movie, not necessarily as much as the place, or the setting, or the time period.

0:06:00 Natalie Dowzicky: And a lot of it is like the aura and the essence of the characters that really draws you in. Yes, the acting in this movie was phenomenal, but I think what’s most important is the characters and their relationships to each other, and that’s kind of how, I understood the movie. I didn’t think the plot was as breathtaking or as stunning and interesting as the characters and their relationships. And I think that kind of speaks to why this Dude has this cult‐​like following, and which is interesting, considering the movie, at the time it came out, wasn’t all that well‐​received. There were many articles I was reading in preparation for this about how the movie wasn’t selling out theaters. They were half‐​full and didn’t really get much attention until much later, once people had seen it multiple times and began to consume more of the intricacies of the characters and the relationships.

0:07:00 Julian Sanchez: I think in part, right, this is a movie that is almost impossible to market.

0:07:06 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah. [chuckle]

0:07:06 Julian Sanchez: In a sense, you could say, well, it’s kind of a send‐​up of sort of ‘40s noir, hard‐​boiled detective films, but it’s not really and it’s not centrally a parody of those films even though it is, to some extent, playing with that genre and those genre conventions but also very much like a lot of noir films, it is not really about plot, and it’s sort of odd. We think of mysteries as these very tightly plotted, intricately architected things, but a lot of the classic noir films, plot‐​wise, just don’t make a ton… The Big Sleep, as a sort of protective plot, doesn’t really make a ton of sense. Noir always tend to be collections of scenes and this is very much a collection of scenes. I mean, if you try to describe the plot, it just seems like a series of borderline non sequiturs.

0:08:16 Landry Ayres: Yes, that actually exactly happened to me. I was telling my wife that I was going to be watching this movie, The Big Lebowski, and she said, “Oh, I’ve never actually seen it.” And I said, “Oh, it’s really good. We should watch it.” And she said, “Well, what’s it about?” And I said, “Well, it’s about this guy.” And she said, “Oh, the guy with the moustache and sunglasses, The Big Lebowski?” And I said, “Well, kind of, but not really. There’s this guy, his name is the Dude, and these guys break into his house and urinate on his rug.” And that’s about as far as I was able to get explaining the story, really having it make any sense, and I completely failed to make it a captivating thing that made her want to watch it, even though it’s really good, and I’m sure she would really enjoy it.

0:09:09 Akiva Malamet: Yeah. It’s definitely a hard sell, like Julain said. I think I would also have a nightmare if I were the marketing director of this campaign for this movie.

0:09:19 Julian Sanchez: So, I think… Maybe, this is me, like Walter, trying to bring everything back to Vietnam. I’m a big opera nerd and particular, a Wagner fan, and I think, in a sense, the way to think about The Big Lebowski is as, I think, a probably consciously Wagnerian work, something that they themselves allude to internally, in one of the Dude’s dream sequences. And what I mean by that is, what is… One of the things that is most characteristic of Wagner’s mature operas is his use of leitmotifs. That is the idea that there will be these leitmotifs, these little musical phrases that are associated with a character or an idea or an event, that will recur over and over throughout the work, blend together with other themes and be transformed in ways that are a kind of commentary.

0:10:19 Julian Sanchez: So, you’ll hear… In the first opera of the Ring Cycle, there’s the theme of the Ring of Power, which is this evil dwarf curses love to obtain this ring, which has this insidious and sinister theme that speaks of greed and treachery. And then, it transitions, from the first to the second act, into this glorious, triumphant, magisterial music of Valhalla, the Palace of the Gods. But it’s basically the same music in a different key and with different instrumentation, but it’s the same, and the time is stretched out a little bit so, they sound, in a sense, very different, but it’s basically the same melody.

0:11:05 Julian Sanchez: And I think Lebowski is very much a movie that needs to be understood in terms of this motivic technique. And I think this is actually again, they nod to this. In the film itself, you see in one of Lebowski’s fantastically staged dream sequences, he and Maude Lebowski are doing this dance together and she is in Valkyrie gear. She is dressed like Brunnhilde from Wagner’s Ring Cycle, except not quite. She’s really dressed more like the cartoonish version of Brunnhilde that Elmer Fudd dresses up as, in the Looney Tunes, What’s up, doc? [laughter] So, it’s a kind of ridiculous comical take on this magnum opus of Wagner.

0:12:09 Julian Sanchez: And I think that’s probably deliberate because, in a sense, what makes the film so notoriously quotable, one of the reasons it’s a cult classic is that people kind of quote it constantly. And one of the reasons it is quotable is that it is playing these games with dialogue that gets passed, not just that it gets repeated. In a sense, it’s the same character repeating a line, but dialogue that gets passed from character to character, sometimes by direct transmission. The Dude says, “Oh, the rug really tied the room together.” And then, Walter kinda echoes that back to them, back trying to rile him up to take action.

0:12:51 Julian Sanchez: But sometimes bizarrely where a line will be repeated by a character who never heard it spoken the first time: “The Chinaman is not the issue,” or “Where’s the money?” Well, “Where’s the money, Lebowski?” is repeated sometimes by characters who’ve heard it before and sometimes independently, but you see these lines popping up again and again in different places as these sort of motifs that recur and connect disparate scenes.

0:13:18 Julian Sanchez: And you also see actually the more traditional use of leitmotif to some extent in the sense of a theme associated with characters: The “Rolling along with the tumbling tumbleweeds,” that is basically the first piece of music we hear and then crops up again at the end, associated with Sam Elliot’s cowboy narrator, The Stranger. The Dude has not a singular piece but the sort of soundtrack of ‘60s and ‘70s classic rock. There’s a Mancini track that plays with Jackie Treehorn. Mucha Muchacha is associated with Bunny Lebowski. There’s various kinds of classical music associated with The Big Lebowski. It’s I think it’s Mozart’s Requiem in the first instance and something from Korngold’s City of the Dead, later, Die Tote Stadt.

0:14:16 Julian Sanchez: Both of which, by the way, are… Give little messages, right? Requiem is obviously a funeral mass, and then Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt is basically about a widower coming to terms with the death of his wife. So both of these are pieces of music he’s listening to that maybe suggest as part of his… We learn eventually that The Big Lebowski’s whole sort of persona is this kind of elaborate fraud and put on, that he is not the self‐​made man and titan of industry he pretends to be, but that part of this sort of performative thing is him preparing for the death of his wife, because indeed, as we eventually learn… I hope no one is listening to this without having watched The Big Lebowski… He hopes indeed that he will not recover her from this supposed kidnapping that we learn didn’t happen, but indeed that she’ll be killed and he will not have to deal with her anymore.

[music]

0:15:22 Landry Ayres: What about The Dude has allowed him to become so beloved, has given him such staying power as a character that people wanna glom on to? For instance, it’s not just his image, but his philosophy, if you could call it that, of dude‐​ism that has grown out of his actions and thoughts and words in the film is rooted in a lot of much more well‐​known history‐​based philosophy, like Zen Buddhism, for instance. But what is it about his brand of dude‐​ness, if you will, that makes him someone people want to follow or emulate? Is it… For instance, he’s based on a real person, Jeff Dowd, who is a member of the Seattle Seven, just like the dude references. He said, “Yeah, the Seattle Seven. That was me and six other guys.” What about the dude as a character makes him something people want to follow?

0:16:30 Akiva Malamet: Well, and so I think this is a great question, and I think it’s interesting to contrast the character of The Dude with other ‘90s slacker fair [chuckle] that Julain mentioned earlier. So if you think about, let’s say the character of Dante from Kevin Smith’s Clerks, or you think about the various not particularly specific characters from Richard Linklater’s Slacker, those are all people whose profiles are not particularly… I wouldn’t say not admirable, but they’re not people that inspire you all that much. They’re kind of people that aren’t very happy with their lot in life. Dante’s most quotable line is, “I should have stayed home today.” So he has a little bit of a whiny aesthetic, which some people could still appreciate, but it doesn’t inspire all that much.

0:17:25 Akiva Malamet: And I think what separates The Dude is that he has a kind of philosophical stoicism to dealing with the march of life and the continuation of this slacker approach to things, of not chasing after ambition, of not trying to create great edifices or seek larger narratives that has its own kind of value, and it’s not just kind of being fed up with the world or feeling like everything sucks and it’s against you in a depressing kind of way, but it has its own validity, its own philosophical nobility to it.

0:18:09 Akiva Malamet: So without being too grandiose, I suppose, The Dude always makes me think of the classic book by the philosopher Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, which is all about how basically at the end of the day, if you’re trying to make sense of your life, you kind of can’t. There isn’t a clear way to look at the world and say, “Yes, I know exactly what this is all supposed to mean, what we’re all supposed to do with this,” and then to some extent, life just is sort of absurd, and it’s not always easy for people to pull meaning out of it in a clear way. And so at the end of the book, Camus invites us to imagine the mythological character of Sisyphus who’s continually rolling this boulder up a hill over and over and over again as he’s condemned by the gods to imagine that he’s a happy person, that he likes what he’s doing. And I kind of think about that when I think about The Dude. The Dude is sort of trying to say that at a certain point.

0:19:10 Akiva Malamet: You should be a little bit less obsessive about trying to chase after any one particular thing. Because you need to recognize that within all of this, there is a limitation about how much sort of narrative or meaning you can carve out of all of this. And you kind of just have to get along with it. That’s why the classic phrase “The Dude abides,” I think resonates very powerfully for people. ‘Cause it’s like you kind of just… You just kind of go along to get along. You keep on trucking, which is a famous ‘60s phrase, that was on a lot of posters and stuff. You kind of just continue on in your life. And you find a way to make that all kind of work for you, without trying to maybe pretend so much that it’s about something bigger.

0:19:53 Akiva Malamet: And I think you kind of see an interesting contrast between the character of The Dude and a lot of other characters, who seem to have kind of pretensions towards something larger, or a notion that, what things should be about is something larger and try to portray themselves as being part of that. Whether that’s Mr. Lebowski is pretending that he’s actually a very important, successful business man. Or Walter’s commitment to, or pseudo‐​commitment I suppose, to the details of the Jewish faith. And Walter’s kind of insistence that you have to have an ideology, right? So Walter has that famous phrase like, “Say what you will about the Nazis. At least they had an ethos.” And I think the dude kind of calls that out in a kind of ironic commentary, like, “What is the point of all this?”

0:20:39 Julian Sanchez: There’s like a million… A million Big Lebowski fans are like going, “Oh God, no. They gotta get the line exactly right.” It’s “Say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism. At least it’s an ethos.”

[laughter]

0:20:50 Akiva Malalmet: Yeah, I apologize to all the line obsessives out there. I’m not always great at the quotables. I’m the part of the contributors to the people who are like, “Luke, I’m not your father,” screw ups and all the various other missed lines.

0:21:05 Natalie Dowzicky: Ah yes [chuckle]

0:21:06 Akiva Malamet: I’m definitely one of those people. But yeah, I think there’s a kind of contrast between like the, “We need to create a narrative for things and we need to have that something… Things mean something very specific. And I have to be this person,” versus The Dude’s version of slackerism, which is like, sometimes it’s okay to be a little bit low‐​key about all of this, and not try to construct a whole identity that, at least through the lens of the movie, you find out that a lot of them are kind of hollow inside. At least Mr. Lebowski is, the nihilists are, right? It’s all a kind of act. They’re all performers.

0:21:44 Julian Sanchez: It’s not fair.

0:21:46 Akiva Malamet: Yeah.

0:21:46 Julian Sanchez: Who’s the nihilist now?

0:21:50 Akiva Malamet: Yeah.

0:21:51 Julian Sanchez: And Bunny, Bunny Lebowski turns out to be actually a layered… Actually, her name is Fawn Knutsen. And before that and somewhere in between, she was Bunny La Joya. Alright, Walter is… In a sense, I guess he was sincere about it, but [0:22:07] ____ essentially Polish Catholic, but now sort of clinging to this Jewish identity. Seemingly as a remnant of his failed marriage that he can’t quite let go of. In a way, where the Dude is the only central character who is, in a sense, authentic. Who is very… Jackie Treehorn, is a pornographer, but he says, “Oh no I deal in publishing and political advocacy and new technologies and I’m a pioneer.” He’s kind of had this very Tim Leery‐​ish sort of pose. And Bridges The Dude sort of punctuates whether or which one is logjammin. The Dude is sort of the only major character in this, who is more or less what he appears to be. What he appears to be may not be all that rigmorale.

[chuckle]

0:22:55 Julian Sanchez: He’s just very stoned, kinda slacker guy.

0:23:00 Akiva Malamet: He’s eminently authentic.

0:23:00 Julian Sanchez: Who likes bowling. But… Right… But everyone else is basically a performance. Maude Lebowski is… Poses as this Bohemian artist, but of course, she’s a wealthy heiress. And she’s got this ridiculous, sort of put‐​on, Quasi‐​European, Swiss finishing school… I don’t know what that accent is…

0:23:23 Akiva Malamet: Yeah. And in the end, she just wants to be a mom anyway. Right.

0:23:26 Julian Sanchez: Yeah. Yeah. So he is, in essence, totally authentic. But he’s also this very weird, refreshing thing in that, he is… The set up again, the structure of this thing, is a kind of pastiche of ‘40s, hard‐​boiled noir detective stories. But he’s almost sort of the opposite of a kind of hard‐​boiled protagonist. He’s not a man of action by any means. He essentially… Everything he does is at the instigation of other people. Other people have these grand ambitions to get the million dollars and be rich, and all the Dude ever wanted was his rug back.

[chuckle]

0:24:10 Julian Sanchez: But in a way, this is a very unusual for a Hollywood protagonist. We expect the protagonists to be active and often in a story like this, someone who’s potentially violent and ready with their fists. And we don’t really ever see the Dude do anything particularly violent or aggressive and he’s sort of kind… When the Big Lebowski, whose the architect of a lot of the misery they’ve been put through, falls out of his chair at the end, Walter is determined to expose him as a fraud. He says, “No, come on guy, man. Let me… Help me put him back in his chair.” So yeah, he’s just sort of interesting Zen hero, who in a sense, doesn’t want…

0:25:06 Natalie Dowzicky: Do anything [chuckle]

0:25:10 Julian Sanchez: Much of anything. Other than to be left alone, maybe have his rug back.

0:25:14 Julian Sanachez: But is kind of drifting along, and yet things sort of work out for him in the end.

0:25:20 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, I also think it’s interesting that you talked about how The Dude is a different type of protagonist than we’re used to seeing. He’s certainly not the hero, certainly not… Well, he could be a hero, like you said, a Zen hero. He’s certainly not someone who’s going up and creating the big action points. If anything, he’s the moral reason. He’s the one who’s sitting back and being like, “This isn’t a big deal.” He’s very nonchalant, and I think it’s interesting that on a surface level, I think most people probably want to relate the most to The Dude, but they know that they don’t act like him, if that makes any sense. So when I was watching it, I was like, “Oh wow, I wish I could be a little bit more like,” this because I’m, as Landry knows, I’m very type A. So if I let things roll off my back as much as The Dude was, maybe I could not be so concerned about the little things that don’t matter in life, which is that aura that The Dude gives off.

0:26:20 Natalie Dowzicky: But I think in part, at least for me, when I was watching it, my draw to The Dude as the character was more so that there are some good things that a lot of people could learn from his type of personality. Mind you, all of us don’t need to live our lives that way, but I think it was just interesting how laid‐​back he was, and the fact that it wasn’t your normal, your typical “strong”, and I say that in quotes, ’cause I don’t mean physically strong, a strong presence of a protagonist as we typically see, and I think that’s part of the reason while I was reading up for this podcast, part of the reason that a lot of people don’t get, or I saw so many people saying they don’t get or they don’t understand the Big Lebowski. And I think it’s because there’s not that strong plot with the protagonist we’re all used to seeing, and I think it’s a lot harder for people to understand the purpose of this movie if they don’t understand the nuances of the characters, like The Dude, which is… He’s obviously integral to the movie.

0:27:23 Landry Ayres: Yeah. The Dude really does not act as someone that drives the story forward in the movie, interestingly enough. It’s all people like Walter, who tell him…

0:27:34 Julian Sanchez: Right.

0:27:34 Landry Ayres: What he needs to do, or the other Lebowski that tell him what he needs to do, “You need to go and save Bunny, you need to do this handoff.” And then Walter who says, “No, we need to try and get the whole million, not just the $20,000. We’ll throw the ringer out with my dirty underwear that it’s filled with, instead of the actual money.”

[laughter]

0:27:55 Julian Sancgez: Yeah, there is an interesting potential comedy… There’s a kind of potentially Christian allegorical reading of the Big Lebowski. Walter is very much Old Testament, not just in his propensity for quoting Jewish sages, but…

0:28:14 Landry Ayres: His approach, yeah.

0:28:14 Akiva Malamet: True, yeah.

0:28:15 Julian Sanchez: Yeah, he is a vengeful… “Vengeance is mine,” sayeth Walter. He is very interested in punishing the wicked and seeing justice done, and The Dude, who we do occasionally see kind of shrugging in something that is vaguely evocative of a crucifix pose, is much more, turn the other cheek, love your enemy, forgive, don’t cling to material things. I think that’s almost certainly a kind of intentional contrast there, although I wouldn’t take it too seriously as a kind of…

0:29:00 Landry Ayres: Well, I think also there’s a visual comparison that you could definitely see pretty easily with the style of his hair and his goatee that’s definitely one of the more modern depictions of Jesus that you might be able to see some places. So I would be able to see that, for sure.

0:29:20 Akiva Malamet: Plus the whole bathrobe sith thing gives him a kind of…

0:29:23 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh yeah. [chuckle]

0:29:23 Akiva Malamet: Middle Eastern prophet aesthetic overall. Yeah, I think the Christian contrast there that you raised, Julain, is really strong. And I think a lot of the… Like I mentioned before, a lot of these characters have a… This one goes back to the whole question of what is the point of this movie, where I don’t get this movie, which is that it’s more about themes, it’s more about ideas that they, that the Coens want to percolate in your mind, like what is the point of trying to find Bunny Lebowski? Why does this matter? Or why do we want this money to be saved or not? And I think there’s a… There’s not even like the message that just, “Oh, actually The Dude is right and we shouldn’t care about these things,” but there’s just a question being raised, like when we go after things in life, what are we trying to get out of them? And when we do them, are we looking for them in the same way that other people are? So The Dude decides to start looking for Bunny Lebowski because in the end he decides that she might actually be danger, and so he decides to sacrifice his calmness, Christ‐​like, I suppose, for that. And then there’s that other private investigator who thinks that The Dude actually is a sincere private investigator. So the idea is, right, that…

0:30:52 Julian Sanchez: Da Fino.

0:30:53 Akiva Malamet: Yeah, Da Fino. He’s like, “You’re a private dick, just like me.”

0:30:58 Julian Sanchez: I’m Brother Seamus, and I run the show.

0:30:58 Akiva Malamet: Yeah, Brother Shamus, yeah. And he’s like a perfect stereotype of… Yeah, like a character in The Big Sleep or something. And it’s like they’re both looking for the same thing, they’re both looking for Bunny Lebowski, but The Dude is doing it for… In a totally different way and style than the other guy is, even though they’re both doing the same thing.

0:31:21 Julian Sanchez: Right. And Da Fino, keeps trying to push him into the archetype of the noir hard boiled hero, in bed with everybody, playing one side against the other. “Fantastic work!” He says, “No man, I’m just trying to help my lady friend conceive.”

[laughter]

[music]

[music]

0:31:42 Landry Ayres: This got me thinking about one of the other things that we’ve sort of danced around here, which is the Coen brothers with this movie sort of raise questions with the audience that sort of make them say, “Well, what is the point, what is the end game? Where is this all leading to, and who’s pulling the strings behind all this?” And a very sort of surface level of the reading when you… Especially when you’re not finished with it, I think would lead you to the conclusion that there might not be any meaning behind it, it’s absurd. It is… A lot of people going about things for selfish ends, but there’s no grand plan. Or it seems like there may not be like a real dramatic structure to the entire movie.

0:32:29 Landry Ayres: And so it makes you sort of believe in a postmodern reading partially way through the movie, that there is no meaning, and you could very easily walk away with that. But then it sort of turns it on its head when you come to the end with the nihilists who embody this very much like accepting the lack of meaning and emphatically supporting it, and then saying, well, really those people are cowardly and that they’ve been had by someone else who’s you know pushing them in a direction for their own means. And that really it’s about making your own meaning and making something significant for yourself, which is… I think I did not get, the first time I watched this movie. I didn’t get a lot of it, the first time I watched this movie when I was a much younger person. But upon this watch, I really appreciated that, it has, I wouldn’t say an optimistic quality to it, but I like that it rejected nihilism to an extent, just for me personally, I thought it made it more interesting that way.

0:33:39 Akiva Malamet: I think the nihilists are some of my favorites because of how in the end, how derpy the movie gets about…

0:33:45 Landry Ayres: Oh yeah.

[chuckle]

0:33:46 Akiva Malamet: About their supposed intensity like, “Do you believe in nothing, Lebowski?” And then they end up being very whiny. And what I love about that is the way the movie kind of just keeps dumping on the cynicism that it previously revealed, right? So at the end of the movie when Donny dies, another spoiler for people who decided to unwisely…

0:34:10 Natalie Dowzicky: 22 years later.

0:34:13 Akiva Malamet: Yeah, 22 years later. When Donny dies, right, and then they refuse to buy into the industry of buying this urn container thing, and they use their Folgers Coffee, right? And then the Folgers cof… Then the wind blows their sincere ceremony of Donny’s ashes in their faces, right? So in the end…

0:34:34 Natalie Dowzicky: Yes. [chuckle]

0:34:34 Akiva Malamet: It’s kind of like, “Well, none of the efforts here are really so clear, like what was that about, and what was your lack of caring about this other person’s caring about, right? So it’s like, “Oh, we see through your thing, but we have our own thing, but then kind of nature makes it so that your great ceremony isn’t so great either. And it kind of just keeps doubling back on this sort of lack of center, so you don’t have any like genuine moments, which I guess… I don’t know, I guess you could say has a genuineness in itself.

0:35:11 Julian Sanchez: Oh, I think you do get a genuine moment right after that when…

0:35:14 Landry Ayers: Right.

0:35:15 Julian Sanchez: Finally kind of The Dude sort of… And it’s kind of the… A hilarious sort of thing about their interactions is that the times that The Dude ends up screaming or actually kind of angry about something, it’s usually in some exchange with Walter, where Walter, who is the kind of angry bombastic one has pushed him to the point where The Dude actually gets angry. And then as Walter points out, “He ends up being the one who’s calmer than you are, Dude.” And we have in that scene this moment where finally The Dude has had enough of Walter’s sort of constantly making everything about Vietnam and turning this sort of solemn funeral into a travesty, and he starts finally screaming, “Why is everything about Vietnam with you?” And Walter just hugs him, and they have this kind of very, sort of quiet… A tender moment.

0:36:15 Landry Ayres: Right, right. In the cold light of day, you get that oddly tender moment between the two of them, and just like I was saying a little bit before it doubles back on that cynical view and it sort of ruins what was a beautiful moment oddly, even if Walter kind of manipulates it to make it something sort of about him. It kind of ruins that for you, but then it also then doubles back on it again and give you a bit of this tender, beautiful moment that sort of showcases the very odd sort of mysterious friendship between Walter and The Dude that I still don’t entirely understand. But then again, I don’t understand how I’m friends with a lot of different people that are very different from me, and I still cherish those friendships dearly. So…

0:37:04 Akiva Malamet: Yeah, there’s a, I wouldn’t say, the movie just dumps on everything in the end, but it kind of has this thing where it’s cynical but genuine at the same time, which is what makes it, I think, also endure. It doesn’t feel like it’s just purely cynical, which makes you less inclined to appreciate over time, if you don’t only wanna feel cynical, when that happens you know. So it creates this really nice mix of emotions where in the end, it’s sort of, all of this… You can kind of poke holes in everyone’s relationships, right? So Walter clearly has an immense PTSD from Vietnam and all his relationships has failed and he’s very angry, but he’s also very calm and caring. And The Dude kind of seemingly doesn’t care about things, but also gets intense when he feels like certain core values, these like ‘60s values of peace, love are being threatened. So you have these kinds of nuanced characters where they.

0:38:08 Akiva Malamet: They have a lot of deep enduring flaws, but you appreciate them anyway, which I think also casts… Pokes at the Hollywood thing of the good people are good and the bad people are bad kind of thing. It has that anti‐​hero trope but not in the sense that you appreciate someone who’s basically a bad person which is what happens in The Sopranos and The Wire. It’s more like they’re not really good or bad people, they just have flaws, and you live with them in their humanness instead of them being either good or bad or a bad person that you empathize with.

0:38:43 Julian Sanchez: I think also in terms of the difficulty of their processing, I think this does go back to the kind of motivic nature of the film. This is notoriously a film that people maybe think is fine the first time they see it. They like it a little better the second time, and then the fifth time they see it, they really love it. And the people who are really crazy about this movie will often tell you, and it’s certainly true of me, again, it was fine when they first saw it, but they didn’t really love it until the third, fourth, fifth viewing. And I think that’s… Again, partly because the nature of Wagnerian work like this is that it becomes… It’s like one of those magic eye pictures. It becomes clear only in soft focus when you can see the whole at once, so a motif is introduced in a Wagner opera, you may not understand the full significance of that motif until it’s elaborated later and you understand its connections to all the other themes.

0:39:58 Julian Sanchez: I’ve heard The Ring hundreds of times, I’ve seen it performed five or six times, and I still, often I’m hearing new things, hearing new relationships between themes or recognizing that actually this theme is… It is a transformation of another one that I hadn’t recognized it previously. And so I think, certainly, again, in strict narrative plot terms, it’s a little hard to get a grip on. It’s when you’ve seen local viewings and you recognize the internal hypertext nature of it, that… And so the individual moments get their full significance.

0:40:50 Akiva Malamet: Yeah. It’s not really about the story overall, it’s about the many stories that you get within the story based on the different… Like Natalie mentioned earlier, it’s very character driven. And ultimately you pick up on those themes the same way that you would in a musical score through different instruments, the different characters that embody particular themes and they’re the different… There’s a violin in Lebowski or The Dude or whatever, and then they pull out the different emotional textures that you wanna raise, and so it’s not even about… It’s really about understanding these different types of life experiences or types of ways of viewing the world. So it’s probably harder to get more post‐​modern as a movie than this, unless you just wanted to do the weirdest collection of clips from any random thing.

[laughter]

0:41:44 Akiva Malamet: And just mash them together and pretend it’s a story. But it has that kind of focus on looking at these characters and what they’re going through to then appreciate a certain experience of life rather than it being about the thing that they’re pursuing per se. And it’s more about them relating to any particular situation that they’re in, whether that’s because they’re feeling genuine about it or ’cause they’re feeling cynical or because they’re happy about it, or they think it’s funny or they’re angry or whatever that is.

0:42:15 Natalie Dowzicky: So part of it too is, getting at that question we’ve been talking about pretty much throughout this entire recording, is the point of the movie or people having a tough time understanding. From my perspective, it was interesting because I had seen this movie when I was younger. It had have been about maybe five or six years ago the last time I’ve seen this movie. And I think this time when I watched, I went in with a very different lens, not only knowing that I was gonna do this podcast, so I wanted to have some depth to the conversation, but also that I think once you get older, you may view this film very differently based on your own life experiences, like Akiva was just talking about, and I don’t think perhaps a younger audience has enough life experience in order to really… For some of these character personalities and relationships to really resonate with a young audience.

0:43:08 Natalie Dowzicky: So I imagine that a younger adult audience might not understand the film as much as an older audience, partially just because that was my own personal experience, ’cause the first time I watched it, I very much was in the camp of like, “Okay, that movie was kinda funny, but why did I just watch… Why did I just waste my time watching that movie?” But this time around, I definitely thought it had… The conversation was much more in‐​depth, and Julain was saying, the hypertext or what I gleaned from the nuances between the characters was much, much different than the first time I had viewed it. I also wanted to put in there that the first time I viewed it, I thought it was the… My favorite part was when the ferret went into the bathtub, because I had a… I used to have a ferret and I used to walk it around on a leash, so that was the only scene I was mesmerized by the first time I watched it.

[laughter]

0:44:02 Natalie Dowzicky: I no longer have a ferret, so I didn’t think the same way this time around. But I think the way you view the movie definitely… Is definitely dependent. And this is probably true of most movies too, on your own personal experience, your ability to relate to the characters, have you had experiences that the characters are going through.

0:44:21 Julian Sanchez: Oh, it’s also incidentally that the ferret scene is like the first instance of the movie’s fascination with misidentification and sort of false identities, right.

0:44:33 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh, yeah. [laughter]

0:44:34 Julian Sanchez: The nihilists come in and he’s just “Nice marmot, it’s not a marmot, it’s a ferret.” just right, the first in a long series of things that are not what they are initially identified as.

0:44:49 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, that’s funny, ’cause I remember the first time I was watching this. I was watching with a group of friends, and I screamed out, I was like, “That’s not a marmot that’s a ferret.” But there is a lot of that, questioning of what isn’t real throughout this movie and what is and isn’t important. It certainly goes along with false identification that happens throughout the film.

0:45:10 Julian Sanchez: And then also we get is, this fantastic moment in the funeral scene, we just mentioned which is just a little throw away thing where Walter throws out Donny’s life as a surfer. His big thing was he was an ardent surfer, which is played by Steve Buscemi. He’s just about as far from the archetype of a California surfer guy as you could possibly imagine. But it’s only at the end here, at his funeral that we learn, Oh, this guy had this whole… This dude who was basically quiet throughout and his role was to be confused, and not really understand what was going on, had this rich other life that is never shown on screen. Just in a sense, where I think the dream sequences are a kind of microcosm of the entire movie. They’re this highly concentrated version of what the movie as a whole is doing, which is this insane pastiche of stuff that’s actually happening to the dude, very heavy‐​handed Freudian symbolism, castration anxiety.

[chuckle]

0:46:24 Julian Sanchez: You have bits of pop culture, he ropes in Wagner as filtered probably through Looney Tunes, and Saddam Hussein from the Iraq War being in the news, and these pop sound tracks. They’re this hyper‐​concentrated version of what the movie as a whole is doing, which is throwing together these incredibly disparate elements that maybe seem random and incongruous into this actually elaborately staged synthesis, but somehow it all works together.

0:47:10 Akiva Malamet: Yeah, I think that’s a great, a great point. And it really ties together the way in which the movie, as I said, is about themes and also about symbols, so it’s about certain visual cues that keep coming back about certain psychological drives and anxieties that, well, certainly The Dude has, but also we as the audience have, when we’re trying to… Either when we’re following the narrative, or when we’re going through an experience whether those are fear of some kind of violent situation, or a sexual one, or whatever. And through all of that, you just have the physical… The Dude within the sequence just being tossed and thrown around, so he’s within this environment, and then eventually he is on the back of the bowling ball and he’s kind… Or really actually is the bowling ball.

[laughter]

0:48:02 Akiva Malamet: He’s smashing into the things, and he loses his coherence and cohesion, his perspective on where he is and what’s happening which is like a larger commentary on being disoriented or it’s like a very literal disorientation. And I think it’s about how… About the difficulty of trying to look at different things that are happening in front of you and tie them together. Different things, either in your life or just as you experience something. You see this person in front of you, and that person, and these… The walls are this color, and whatever. And when that all ties together you kind of say, “Well, what was that experience?” And what was this thing that I’ve been trying to get towards?”

0:48:53 Akiva Malamet: And I know for me, what I… This is something else, you think about when you think about dreams in general, there are a way of processing information. One of the standard neuro‐​explanations for why we have dreams is that it’s like a kind of screen saver for just processing all the random pieces of information that have gone through our brains over a period of time and sorting it into files and whatever. And the insanity of that is our brain trying to figure out what all of this actually means and how we’re supposed to use all of this information. And so the dream sequence is, in a way, is a guide for the movie because it’s trying to say, “Well, what you really wanna do is take all these different experiences and then ask yourself what they are supposed to mean for you,” and not what are they supposed to mean for the characters or for the movie as a whole, but how you can get something out of different scenes and different interactions, and…

0:49:53 Julian Sanchez: Really tied the room together.

0:49:54 Akiva Malamet: Yeah, exactly, exactly.

[chuckle]

0:49:57 Landry Ayres: It does. It’s the rug…

0:50:00 Julian Sanchez: It’s the rug.

0:50:00 Landry Ayres: It’s the proverbial rug of the movie. It’s the rug of the movie.

[laughter]

0:50:05 Landry Ayres: And now for the time in the show where we get to share all of the other wonderful media that we’ve been enjoying during this time of being locked in. This is Locked In, so Akiva, Julain, what other stuff have you been enjoying while you’ve been at home?

0:50:22 Julian Sanchez: Let’s see, I am reading the new David Mitchell novel, Utopia Avenue, and Tamsyn Muir’s Harrow the Ninth, which is the sequel to her very much hailed Gideon the Ninth, and this is a weird space opera, sci‐​fi involving civilisation that is centered on necromantic magic. And the David Mitchell, the David Mitchell novel Utopia Avenue, it follows a band that forms in Britain in the late ‘60s, but is also part of his weird mythology spanning his many books of different genres, that kind of connects to books like Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks. Let’s see, I recently listened to the audible adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel, Sandman starring James McAvoy as the title character.

0:51:34 Julian Sanchez: And certainly more seriously, I’m reading Thomas Rid’s book Active Measures: The Secret History of Disinformation and Political Warfare. And let’s see, what kind of movie… Watching, I’ve been re‐​watching Deep Space Nine, just a sort of pandemic comfort food. Just ’cause there’s a whole lot of it to go through. And games I’ve been playing, the RPG Disco Elysium, which is a kind of just bizarre detective story, but set in this real strange political environment… It’s to me very reminiscent of China Mieville’s work or maybe to some extent Warren Ellis, the comics writer and I’ve also been playing, The Last of us two, which is a post‐​apocalypse zombie revenge story by Naughty Dog. The first Last of Us was… It was a very celebrated cinematic game from the studio, Naughty Dog. I don’t know if I’ve… Oh, movie… And I watched Hamilton, like everyone else. Having seen it in New York maybe five years ago, I got to watch it again and like everyone else get all the songs stuck in my head yet again. As though it’s 2016 again.

0:53:02 Akiva Malamet: So coincidentally, it’s funny that Julain mentioned DS9 because I’ve also been going into the pandemic comfort food, rabbit hole, and I’ve been re‐​watching a lot of DS9 and just kind of re‐​struck by how fabulous Avery Brooks is as an actor, period. And how underrated I think he is because it’s Star Trek and everyone kind of waves off Star Trek as being lesser than, which I take great umbrage at, as a confirm Trekkie. And let me see what else, Oh, I’ve been watching. People have been… My various nerd friends have been telling me that I should try and be nicer to Anime and give it a stronger look, so I’ve been watching Devilman Cry Baby on Netflix, which I can say is pretty good so far, and it is this really interesting story about this guy who has to kind of take in and control this demon within him in order to get rid of all these demons that are inhabiting the bodies of other people that are trying to eat up and kill people and destroy them, and he has to kind of… He becomes this hybrid between a man and a demon, where you have to keep these… This demon self under control, so it has all these kind of interesting psychological subtext stuff.

0:54:25 Akiva Malamet: I also re‐​watched… Well, first I watched the 2019 version of Hellboy, which I’m sorry to say was terrible, and then as a palate cleanser, I re‐​watched the Guillermo del Toro versions, the first and second movies, which still hold up and everyone should just see, because Hellboy is great and Guillermo del Toro is Stanley Kubrick of our generation, I’m just going to go on and say that. And let me see, what else. Oh, I’m reading a couple of books, I’m reading… I’m a of a big fan of the comedian Doug Stanhope, and some people may have… May refer to him… He’s a kind of very acerbic, pretty kind of bawdy, dirty comic, but he makes kind of very cynical cutting kind of commentary about just people and their place in the world and relationships. Anyway, he’s got like a memoir called Digging Up Mother, which kind of starts with the death of his mother and the way that she died, it’s amazing and very dark and weird, but well worth it. I guess a bit like The Big Lebowski and is really worth reading and it’s kind of his story of growing up in this very dysfunctional family in this hip town in, I wanna say, Massachusetts or Connecticut, I forget, Massachusetts, right ’cause it’s in western and him, then traveling around and becoming a craic telemarketer and doing all kinds of sleazy stuff in Vegas and LA until he became a stand up comedian and kind of his story of finding himself in life, and it’s very funny and weird and worth reading.

0:56:03 Akiva Malamet: And I am also reading because there are… So I’m a huge fan of the sci‐​fi writer Neal Stephenson, and there are some books that I have read and some books that I haven’t, and for some reason, I have overlooked getting around to reading The Diamond Age, which I agree is bad of me, for all those nerds out there. So I’m reading it now, and it is a fabulous, fabulous book, that certainly already matches his other great stuff, like Anathem or Snow Crash and any of that other stuff, and is worth reading, it’s another kind of cyberpunk classic, neuro future person finding their way, situation of this a young girl, so female‐​centered, which is nice for a change also in sci‐​fi and yeah, those are all things that people should check out.

0:56:54 Natalie Dowzicky: Great, so I have been reading a lot more since I’ve been inside at my place a lot more, but I went back and I read The Haunting of Hill House, I had already seen the Netflix show that they did on it. I wasn’t a huge fan of the book. I know it’s more of like an American classic, it’s by Shirley Jackson. I’ve actually thought the show was more entertaining than the book, which I would rarely ever say about a book that also has a show and/​or movie. I also read a book… A fiction novel recently called After Anna, this is more of like a Young adult mystery novel about a young girl who reconnects with her family after she was given up by her mother. That book is very good. And now I just started reading In Cold Blood, I am literally two pages in, so I can’t tell you if the book is good or not yet, but on the movies and TV side, I have finally started The Man in the High Castle. I have had countless people tell me that it would be something I really enjoy. I’m about four episodes in and I’m not completely sold on it yet, but I do find it entertaining.

0:58:08 Natalie Dowzicky: For those of you who haven’t heard about it, it’s an Amazon Prime show, it is an alternate reality, had the Nazis won World War II. So right now we’re presented with America that’s like half owned by the Third Reich, and then there was a disputed area that’s in the Midwest, and then the West Coast and California is all occupied by the Japanese, so there’s this interesting dynamic between the Japanese and the Third Reich and then there’s all of the Americans or those who technically were Americans during World War II who are trying to create like a rebel group in disguise and how they communicate with each other. So that so far has been really interesting. And I think there are four seasons, so I have a lot to go left in that show. Other than that, I don’t do a lot of game playing other than like Monopoly or UNO. I’ve been in some intense games of Monopoly, but yeah, so that’s kind of what I’ve been up to.

0:59:14 Landry Ayres: One of the things that I have been looking forward to getting into mostly because there is a HBO adaptation that has just begun is Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country, a book that I have had my eye on for a long time and now have a very good excuse to finally break open. It is a… It’s not a homage, I would say, or a send‐​up even, but it is an attempt to tell a sort of cosmic horror‐​type story set in the American South that also confronts HP Lovecraft’s extreme racism that is embedded in his work that you can’t really separate from the stories that he tells and the metaphors that he uses, so it’s a very interesting sort of cosmic core Lovecraftian you could say sort of story that confronts racism almost blatantly as a villain in the story, from what I understand. So I’m very much looking forward to reading that and for also watching the HBO series that should be premiering or I think just premiered, Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft country. One of the other things that my wife and I have been watching a lot of is a series and the cinematic and literary universe that she very much loves is the world of The Moomins. The Moomins are a family of trolls.

1:00:54 Natalie Dowzicky: What?

1:00:54 Landry Ayres: That live in Moominvalley. The main character is Moomin. His mother, Moominmamma and his father, Moominpappa live with him.

1:01:04 Natalie Dowzicky: So it’s like European Smurfs.

1:01:06 Julian Sanchez: The Smurfs are Europeans, Smurfs are Belgian.

1:01:09 Landry Ayres: And they look kind of like hippos but really they’re like fluffy white trolls, and it was a novel that was turned into a comic strip, and then it was a TV show, and they actually have just started producing a sort of 3D animation series, I think called Moomin World that has like an All‐​Star voice cast on it.

1:01:33 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh man.

1:01:35 Landry Ayres: And yes, it is similar to Smurfs in that way, but it’s actually Finnish, not Belgian, so a little bit different there but it’s a lot of fun and it has some… It has that fun sort of European tinge to the children’s stories to where in like an American kids show, even for a country that loves its guns as much as we do.

1:02:04 Julian Sanchez: Yeah.

1:02:05 Landry Ayres: You wouldn’t see someone confront a villain and just point a musket at them, but that happens in the Moomins when Moominpappa has to confront The Groke, which is the personification of depression and…

1:02:20 Julian Sanchez: My gosh.

1:02:21 Landry Ayres: Leaves a trail of ice wherever she goes. It’s fascinating and fun and weird, and I highly recommend the Moomins by Tove Jansson. I also have been interested specifically because the Moomins reminded me of it, because Matt Berry is one of the voices on the new series that they’re producing. Matt Berry got me thinking about What We Do in the Shadows and The IT Crowd, and I specifically went back to one of his very first things he was ever in, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, which was produced by a lot of the people that are in that sort of scene with The Mighty Boosh and IT Crowd, and it’s just a hilarious, weird ‘80s horror soap opera parody show that is so strange and is wacky. I love it, I highly recommend it.

1:03:12 Landry Ayres: And the last thing for all of our podcast listeners out there is one of the best podcasts I have ever heard and definitely within the past couple of years is one of my favourites, it is Richard’s Famous Food Podcast which is produced by Richard Parks III. It is a podcast about food and food culture, but it is like a weird Adult Swim cartoon for your ears in its wackiness. It’s not off colour or dirty or anything like that, but it is just strange and musical and all these different voices done by this one guy and he writes these amazing songs, but he’s also a James Beard award nominated food writer, so the stories are all about bone broth, and it talks about the origins of FA and the culture behind it, the tradition of hiding a Christmas pickle in a Christmas tree.

1:04:13 Natalie Dowzicky: We do that.

1:04:15 Landry Ayres: Things like that. Things that are just so weird and strange that I would never think “Oh, I wanna listen to a podcast about that.” It makes it so compelling and funny that you just have to listen to it and it’s really great. I think it’s weird. It’s not for everybody, but I think it’ll surprise you. So I highly recommend Richard’s Famous Food Podcast.

[music]

1:04:39 Landry Ayres: Thanks for listening. What do you think the meaning of the The Big Lebowski is? Well, you know that’s just your opinion, man. But we wanna hear it, make sure to share your thoughts and opinions with us on Twitter at @PopnLockePod, that’s pop, the letter N, lock with an E, pod. Make sure to subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. We look forward to unravelling your favourite show or movie next time. Pop & Locke is produced by me Landry Ayres as a project of lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org. To learn more, visit us on the web at www​.lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org.