Sunday, November 22, 2009

Film Review -- The Big Lebowski

The Big Lebowski is a story of mistaken identity. The main character, the dude, is mistaken for Jeff Lebowski, the millionaire with the same name. In the 2nd scene of the movie, the dude is attacked by thugs demanding money that Jeff Lebowski's wife owes to Jackie Treehorn, a porn mogul. One of the thugs attacks him by shoving his head down a toilet, while another pees on his rug. “See what happens, Lebowski, do you see what happens?” The thugs use their phalluses both literally and figuratively to intimidate the dude. When they mention his wife, the dude replies "Do you see a ring? Does it look like I’m fucking married? The toilet seat's up, man." This is one first of many funny portrayals of masculinity: the dude then lowers toilet seat, revealing a clean ring around the toilet top. This ring as well as his modest apartment, which represent his failed masculinity, is juxtaposed with a wedding ring, the married and rich lifestyle of Jeff Lebowski.
Following the attack, opening credits role. There are various shots of a bowling alley, to Bob Dylan’s the “the man in me.” As you are taken through each lane multiple male bowlers are shown. “The man in me will do nearly any task. As for compensation there’s a little he would ask. Take a woman like you to get through to the man in me. The man in me will hide sometimes to keep from being seen. That’s because he doesn’t want to turn into some machine. Take a woman like you, to get through to the man in me. ” The lyrics reinforce hetero-normativity yet touch on the performative nature of gender. How delightfully postmodern!
The bowling alley is an all male area. It is the center of the homosocial interaction in the movie, and sets up the constructions of masculinity within the dude’s bowling group. Walter Sojack, played by John Goodman, is the hyper male. He’s the one who convinces the dude to contact the Big Lebowski about the rug. He constantly uses aggression to prove his points, at one point parroting a speech by George H. W. Bush on the Gulf War. “This aggression will not stand; [this aggression against Kuwait].” Here is an instance where State violence mirrors the violent nature of male human interaction. When he convinces the dude that the Big Lebowski should give him a new rug, he makes aggressive grunts, flaunting his logical prowess.
Donnie is the third bowler on the team, and he is constantly emasculated by Walter. When talking about the rug plan, Donnie is bowling, and so when he comes back he “has no frame of reference here.” Because of this, Walter feels justified in making in talking over him and dominating the situation. Later in the film, he is further marginalized via desexualization. He questions why it’s a problem that thugs threaten to “cut off your [the dude’s] Johnson,” saying “what you need that for, dude?” He is also one of the only main male characters who does not have a female companion.
The dude then confronts the Big Lebowski, hoping to be compensated for the valued rug. Jeffrey Lebowski declines the dude’s request for compensation, but after meeting him he has his butler give him a rug of choice. The Big Lebowski’s masculinity is defined by his wealth and power, but it is called into question because of being in a wheel chair. Tara Reid plays his trophy wife, and his disability is an avenue through which he is further desexualized. His age and wealth empower him over the dude, but weaken him as he relates to his wife, who is a porn star. Tara Reid’s character, Bunny, is a sex addict. If she does engage in sex with the Big Lebowski, it is never for enjoyment.
After the dude steals the rug, he is bowling with his friends again. This is where we first encounter Walter’s female counterpart. Instead of seeing her through her character, we learn about their relationship through a dog that Walter is watching. Although he’s been divorced from his wife for three years, she still has enough influence to convince him to bring the dog bowling. This is one of times where his masculinity is called into question. Curiously enough, in the following scene, Walter pulls out a gun because he believes another bowler went over the line during league play. This is one of the many times Walter defends his intense hyper masculine actions by the fact that he’s a war vet.
Later in the movie, the dude is knocked out and his rug is stolen by Maude Lebowski, the Big Lebowski’s daughter. She says that the rug belonged to her mother rather than Jeff, so it wasn’t his to give. This is where we first learn that all of his wealth was inherited from his first wife. Maude is the dude’s female counterpart. When they first meet, she asks him if the word vagina intimidates him, and if he likes sex. She represents a strong, assertive woman. Bunny Lebowski is a sex crazed gold digger, and Walter’s ex-wife is a controlling dog lover. All of the female characters interact with each other if only by interacting with the male characters separately.
Whether it be in bowling, being attacked by thugs, or acts of vengeance, all the male characters in the movie threaten each other through forced homosexuality. When Walter destroys a car he believes to be purchased with bribe he feels owed to him, he smashes a car in screaming “This is what happens, when you fuck a stranger in the ass!” When Jesus, a fellow bowler, talks trash about league play, he says “I’ll take the piece stick it up your ass, and pull the trigger till it goes click.” Whenever the thugs threaten the dude, they always attack him saying, “I’m gonna fuck you,” or “we’ll cut off your Johnson!”

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