Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Walter and the Dude - Right and Left

This blog is in conjunction with the LAMB's June Movie of the Month (working title.)

Almost everybody loves The Big Lebowski. It’s a small, cult movie with large critical acclaim, is infinitely quotable and a huge devoted following. It has spawned books, its own festival (Lebowski Fest) and even a religion (Dudeism). While much has been written about the film’s notable influences from existentialism, political ethos and film noir, there are simpler themes that generally tend to be overlooked.

My favorite character is Walter Sobchak. He’s the kind of guy who makes me proud to be a veteran. If John McCain would choose Walter as his VP, I would switch parties.

I like to watch the movie as a buddy comedy. Walter is along for all of the big action pieces and furthermore, in the only two instances where the Dude takes action himself, it’s Walter who drives him to it (literally, the second time). Whatever troubles the Dude gets himself into, Walter is there to help bail him out. Walter and the Dude are two sides of a coin, the left and the right. Do you ever notice how in most scenes, even when driving to the drop, the Dude is on the left and Walter is on the right? For all the Zen-Buddha, hippie beliefs that the Dude embraces, Walter is the polar opposite.

Conservative, religious and right wing, Walter could be called a zealot if he were a television pundit. He strongly believes in his ‘basic freedoms’ including free speech, the right to bear arms and freedom of religion. His conservative views are clearly on display whether dealing with Larry Sellers, Jesus or Smokey. Walter believes in the rules about everything from bowling to kidnapping and enforces them anyway he can. He’s not seeking validation when he asks, “Am I wrong?” but trying to make sense of a world that has disregard for the rules everyone has agreed on. Whether it’s race relations with Asian Americans, sex offenders or inept nihilists, his heart is in the right place, but his method is slightly mad. Even Walter’s best laid plans go astray, as he really didn’t have an exit strategy for the money drop/hostage exchange. But, most of the time, he is right. Mr. Lebowski’s spinal notwithstanding, let us not forget dude, the nihilists ARE amateurs, that is NOT her toe and NOBODY is going to cut the Dude’s dick off.

So, if Walter is the right and the Dude is the left, how do these two get along? How are a former hippie and a former vet best friends with each other? Walter is constantly talking about foreign policy and Vietnam and the Dude does not shy away from discussions about pacifism, Walter’s issues with his ex-wife or continually calling him out on his actions. It is because they’re men or because they are both cognizant of their roles in the relationship? I like to think that both of them accept each other for who they are, like in a marriage and recognize that they provide the counter balance to each other. Near the end, before the Stranger appears the first time, Walter tells the Dude, he’s being ‘very un-Dude.’ Walter is aware of how the Dude is supposed to act and what he brings to the table in their friendship. Like so many people with strong opinions, Walter might have a shaky view of himself. So, if the Dude is not being who he should be, then what does that make Walter? As the scene plays, he does not stay around to find out.

People look at the Dude and want to be him, want to emulate him and wish they could live as carefree. I think we should all try to be a little more like the Dude AND Walter. Their bipartisan spirit I something that we can all aspire to especially in an upcoming election year. Walter and the Dude are the alpha and the omega and the rest of us are just Donny, along for the ride with open ears and a shut mouth.

The Big Lebowski is available on DVD from Focus Features.


Fletch said...

This post will get a lot more exposure when the MOTM feature hits (I'm assuming), but I'm kinda glad I get to be the first to say that I really liked the angle you took here.

It's hard to do a review of a 10 year movie, much less one that god-knows-how-many-people will be also reviewing at the same time.

I, too, noticed upon watching recently that Walter, despite his essientially being the reason the Dude gets in such a mess, is right about just about everything else, and damned if he doesn't always KNOW he's right - yet another trait I might aruge he shares with others that would lie politically with him. He's truly a fascinating character, written and performed expertly.

Now, I just might have to center my piece on Donny, including watching the whole of his scenes focusing only on him. There's something deeper philosphically to him as well, but I haven't tapped it yet.

Fletch said...

Oh, and I'd somehow never heard of Dudeism - thanks for the link...

Michael J. Mendez said...

I didn't want to just review the film that everyone's seen a dozen times, but there's so much going on in the movie, everybody could blog about something different and we would never get bored.

I love the very lived in marriage feel to Walter and the Dude's relationship. It's what makes it more of a guy's movie, because everybody has a friend like that, who we constantly disagree with, argue with and just say, "Yea, I'll see you at practice."

Or as I used to always tell a friend, "If we weren't friends, we wouldn't BE friends."

Rachel said...

I really like the left/right perspective you took here. Not the typical "This movie's awesome!" review. I guess it is possible to analyze a stoner comedy.