By David Thorsteinsson
Many of us watch The Big Lebowski time and again with undiminished or even increasing enjoyment. Needless to say the acting is awsome, the dialogue is inspired, the camera work is beautiful, and the soundtrack is great. But many of us gradually see things come to light in TBL that were like hidden at first sight. The film slowly reveals to us unspoken messages, as it were, some of them quite puzzling. After a while we start feeling as the Dude put it himself:
It’s a complicated case…Lotta ins. Lotta outs. And a lotta strands to keep in my head, man.
To elucidate the subtler points in TBL the Coen brothers – on a personal level – are not likely to be a source of inspiration. But we can take comfort in the fact that they have provided leads for us troughout the film. Many of those leads, admittedly, are quite ambiguous so it’s easy for us sinners to go astray even with (or even especially with) their guidance. Nonetheless it has been fun for us to follow those leads and find out where they take us. The story being unfolded here tells of some of our discoveries down that trail. We may be misled of course and our quest may be irrelevant anyway but – hell – this is just adult entertainment. So enjoy!
What makes a man?
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mix’d in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, “This was a man!”
These words may come to mind when we hear the Stranger in The Big Lebowski introduce the Dude by repeating “He was a man…” as if he were at loss to find a better word. Shakespeare’s Anthony mentions the elements and how they mix in men, and it seems to us that the four classical elements Earth, Water, Air and Fire are all explicitly at play in TBL.
The film opens at nighttime with a view of a patch of earth with a carpet of vegetation. This is the first element, Earth. The view moves uphill and we see a tumbleweed blown by the wind: Second element Air. The vista opens over a hilltop showing a lone star near the horizon and the lights of LA, the City of Angels: Third element Fire. The tumbleweed rolls along a line drawn on a city street and ends up at daybreak blowing across the sands on the beach of the Pacific Ocean: Fourth element, Water.
The film has now introduced us to the classical elements in their crude form but this goes on from there. At the first meeting of the friends in the Holly Star Walter repeatedly shouts at Donny “You are out of your element!” So we may justly wonder which element or elements are Donny’s. Well, Donny happens to mention two: “I’m throwing rocks tonight” and “You guys are dead in the water.” Later we learn that Donny loved both bowling (Earth) and surfing (Water). Whales sing at his death. His ashes were to be scattered into the bosom of the Pacific Ocean but due to a goddamned wind were blown inland. Later in this essay we will argue that the tarot card representing Donny is the Star which stands for the elements Earth and Water.
As for Walter, there is no question about his element. Continually seen with a lighted cigarette and blowing smoke like a dragon he glares at the world fiercly through fire-coloured glasses. He carries a loaded firearm and has a fiery temper. The man is all Fire.
All the elements mix gently in the Dude. He has strong ties to Earth shown through bowling and the rug he loves. As for Air, it turns out he is adept at flying, as demonstrated in his first hallucination chasing Maude across the sky as well as in his second one – the “porn movie”. On a more mundane level we see him repeatedly sniffing things. He puts trust in the element Air. The Dude carries fire of a gentle kind wherever he goes in the form of his joints. He loves the feel of water and keeps himself immaculately clean. He listens to whale song in his bath with lighted candles all around him while enjoying a J. He is frequently seen with a beverage in hand. All the elements sure mix gently in him.
Some other persons are similarly associated with certain elements, such as Jackie Treehorn with Fire and Earth (shown through property and luxury). But does this theory of the classical elements give us an answer to the timeless question “What makes a man?” In a sense, yes. But then there is that and more to discuss.
Not a Hero?
The Dude may not look like a hero, exactly, the first time we meet him at Ralph’s nor if we compare his doings around town with Walter’s supposed deeds in Nam. But the Dude keeps surprising us. Take that night of his as an example, during which he was abducted, drugged, arrested, abused, beaten up, and humiliated – only to come home to find his private residence completely spoiled by thugs. The Dude’s only reaction was to sigh “Jesus!” No anger, no self pity, no hard feelings. And even then – in the abomination of the destruction – challenged with the task of helping his lady-friend conceive, he rises to the occasion. I don’t know about you, but we take this to be real-life heroism.
Supple but no softie, a pacifist both in word and deed, always ready with a witty retort, his mind being – uh – limber, that’s the Dude here.
The Stranger has difficulty in fixing a label onto the Dude: “Not a hero”, “a man for his time and place”, “lazy”. The Stranger may be somewhat off the mark each time, but then there was a lot about the Dude that didn’t make a whole lot of sense to him. (Needless to say the Stranger himself is neither wholly of this time nor place.) But it is odd that he makes a point of calling the Dude lazy. Laziness – sloth – is one of the Cardinal Sins but TBL actually shows us the Dude as being almost frantically active most of the the time. Even in his few moments of rest such as when lying in his bath he is actively enjoying life – he has lighted candles all around the bath-tub and he listens to the song of whales whilst relishing a joint. All his senses take part in – and all the elements are present at – this ceremony.
Other persons in TBL might reasonably be labelled with one or more Deadly Vices such as Walter with wrath and perhaps envy, the Big Lebowski with greed and pride (hubris), and Jackie Treehorn with lust (porneia). Of course the Dude’s lifestyle might have been called laziness by the Western Pioneers or by modern capitalists; he is admittedly unemployed. To us, however, the Dude seems to possess more of the seven holy virtues such as charity (benevolence, generosity), kindness (humanitas), patience (peace, mercy, ahimsa), and humility than any of the corresponding vices. He is courageous and never gives in to bullies. He is generous and offers his lady friend a coctail. And he is the only person in the film who actively listens: to others, to president Bush, to music, to the song of whales, and to the clatter of falling pins. And let’s not forget that the Dude seems to be quite curious intellectually as seen from the diverse titles in his library, from Japanese Cookery and Hoyle’s book on card games to Sartre’s Being and Nothingness.
The Dude’s “laziness” is the Strangers parlance for his way of taking it easy. That, in fact, may be akin to what the ancient Taoists called wei wu wei which means working without effort – i.e. without being uptight.
TBL as a Rug
In a typical Persian rug, patterns keep repeating themselves all over the field. That’s the visual poetry of the rug, its rhyme and cadences. So it is with the language (and the imagery) of TBL. The characters keep repeating their own and each other’s phrases – even those they haven’t overheard. They are, in a sense, weaving verbal patterns into the movie.
A Persian carpet is built upon a foundation of crisscrossing threads, called the warp and the weft. The pile of the rug – i.e. its visible surface – is formed by pushing short strands of thread into the foundation, winding them around the threads of the warp and pulling them out again. (The picture on the right, borrowed from Wikipedia, shows the so called Persian Knot.) There is a lot of ins and outs involved in this complicated process, and a lot of strands to keep track of in one’s head too. In the movie the Dude reports several times of these complications.
If there is a master weaver in this movie, however, it may be the big Lebowski himself. Immobile and spider-like he sits in the centre of his evil web, pulling strings.
Existentialism as Dudeism
The Coens show us fleetingly two books by Sartre in the Dude’s living quarters – the one on the Dude’s night table (according to internet lore) is Being and Nothingness. This cannnot be due to chance or carelessness; these books must amount to leads. Either they are meant to imply that the Dude once read and probably still reads existentialistic literature or else the Coens want to tell us that the film has strong existential themes.
Existentialism was a word, if not coined by Sartre, then at least made fashionable by him. The term refers to philosophers who, to quote Wikipedia,
generally held that the focus of philosophical thought should be to deal with the conditions of existence of the individual person and his or her emotions, actions, responsibilities, and thoughts.
Sartre, rather arbitrarily, nominated Kierkegaard as the first existentialist. Learned men have disputed this and have pointed out that both Hamlet and Gautama Buddah, amongst others, would qualify as existential thinkers.
The existential viewpoint is, roughly, that man lives in a world which has no inherent meaning – the world is, in a sense, absurd – and man‘s task is to accept this fact with dignity and without falling off the edge of sanity into the abyss of despair. Man must himself invest his life with meaning and his worst scenario would be to succumb to nihilism – which is the belief in nothing at all. So the existentialists teach us basically the same lesson as the big Lebowski tried to transmit to the Dude: It is man‘s own responsibility to solve his problems and to make sense in his time and place.
We might say that the Dude does all this with no less aplomb than did Sartre himself – let alone the big Lebowski. Historically, the Dude was one of the authors of the Port Huron Statemement and he was one of the Seattle Seven. He does indeed bowl and drive around. And the only thing the Dude ever wanted apart from that was his rug back. He enjoys life gently and is ever ready to do his neighbour a favour. Confronted with the fundamental question as whether to be or not to be, he abides. Few of us can boast of such style.
City of Angels
The Stranger is firmly associated with the bush. His voice is first heard out of the tumbleweed and he is heralded by the Pioneers’ song about the tumbeling tumbleweed. He drinks sarsaparilla, which name, as the Wikipedia says “comes from the Spanish words zarza for ‘shrub’ and parrilla for ‘little grape vine.’" All this may allude to the God of Moses or his angel who spoke to Moses out of the thornbush.
It is clear that the Stranger has more in him than mortal knowledge. He remembers things long past, knows things unseen and things to come – cf. his annunciation of the little Lebowski. He says that he’ll meet us later on down the trail. He smacks of the magical or the divine.
The Stranger says that he didn’t find LA to be a city of angels, exactly. But both he and some of the other folks in TBL are somewhat reminicents of angels. Angels of different order, angels as messengers, dark angels, fallen angels. Maude has literally made an angel on her latest canvas and she is more than once seen flying in the air. The Stranger never walks into the view of the camera – he materializes, as it were, on the scene just as does his antithesis, Jackie Treehorn. The Stranger isn’t even sure which way to walk out of the set at his first appearance in the bowling alley.
3000 years of Beautiful Tradition
Walter too has some characteristics of the Hebrew God or the Law of Moses. Vindictive and violent of temper he passionately hates promiscious women (“that Fucking Bitch!”). Compared to him the Dude is a veritable Jesus Christ oozing compassion (“that poor woman!”). In that sense they respectively stand for the ethos of the Old and New Testament.
In Walter‘s moving speech at Donny‘s funeral (yeah, we too laughed the first several times; now we just listen in awe) he chastices God for Donny’s (and other young men’s) untimely death. Walter does get a response from God, sort of, when a “goddamned wind” blows Donny’s “final mortal remains” – i.e. his dust and ashes – into the friends’ faces. The scene is a jocoserious allusion to Job, to whom God spoke out of the whirlwind. Walter’s almost speechless reaction – “I’m sorry Dude” – is essentially the same as Job’s: “I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
In the script found on the internet the Coens twice mention the “Tree of life”; first in Hebrew (“Aitz chaim he, Dude, as the ex used to say”) and then when the trinity of friends for the last time walk out of the bowling alley (“A tree of life, Dude. To all who cling to it.”). That second instance was apparently changed to what is heard in the movie as “In the 14th century the Rambam he, like, he –”
Not being privy to the tradition in question, we will not venture to divine the meaning of this or even claim there is any. We only want to point out that the Coens by mentioning the Tree of Life may have wanted to establish a literal connection with Kabbala – a field of study where, by the way, the number 10 is of no less importace than in the case of ladies’ toes or in bowling. The Coens apparently also saw a reason for mentioning the Rambam.
What the Rambam (i.e. the 12th century Moses Maimonides) actually said may or may not be the issue here. He laid down the 13 Jewish principles of faith, and he was an early adherent of the so called negative theology, about which Wikipedia says:
Negative theology or Via Negativa … is a theology that attempts to describe God, the Divine Good, by negation, to speak only in terms of what may not be said about the perfect goodness that is God.
That is to say, we can meaningfully say about God only what he is not – e.g. that he is “not non-existent”, “not ignorant”, “not evil”, etc.
But what in God’s holy name has this got to do with the Dude and Walter? Well, we just don’t know, dude.
The Tarot as a Frame of Reference
Various characters in TBL may be associated with the so called Major Arcana of the tarot. This association seems to us to be so strong as to be almost certainly concious on behalf of the Coens. It is not clear to us, however, whether the Coens had one particular deck of cards in mind or more. We will refer mostly to the well known Rider-Waite deck and occasionally to older types, such as the deck of Marseilles.
Occultists believe that the images of the Major Arcana of the tarot transmit deep spiritual wisdom from ancient times and as such they have been likened to the archetypes of Carl Jung. Some of their images, like Death and Justice, are part of common lore. Their images have probably given the Coens a cue to many details in the film. And if the characters of TBL are indeed based on the tarot it may help explain their truly elemental force. We belive we’ve found 13 convincing correspondances with the tarot cards. But let’s get down to cases.
The Dude: the Fool
The image of the Fool shows a young man with a white flower in his left hand, a knapsack in his right. His attire in the Waite interpretation is highly decorated but ragged in many earlier decks. In blissful disregard of danger he is about to walk – or perhaps rather to dance – off a cliff. He is followed by a dog which may be playful (Waite) or about to bite at his leg (older styles).
The Fool may be marked with the number zero or be unnumbered. According to Wikipedia this can be so interpreteted that the Fool “moves around always and cannot be pinned down. As such, the Fool is everyone and every place.” The Fool may be considered either as a blundering beginner or an adept. In his oblivion to circumstances he seems miraculously immune to the dangers of the world: He walks off cliffs unharmed and disregards the dog attacking him.
The tarot Fool holds a white rose in one hand and a parcel with his belongings in the other as he is walking off a cliff. The Dude carries in one hand a sack containing his bowling ball. Instead of a white flower in the other hand he holds a pint of milk, a joint, or a glass of White Russian – most memorably when he is thrown by force into Big Lebowski’s limo.
The Fool is considered to have both masculine and feminine elements, as well as childlike caracteristics. And so does the Dude. Although eminently masculine, he is often seen occupied in feminine activities like applying polish to his nails or tying his hair back with a clip. And he has the infant’s habit of grasping and tasting things that lie before him.
Throughout the film the Dude is falling over a cliff and into an abyss, so to speak. It begins with his coming home the first night – dancing along and blissfully unaware of the misadventures that await him – and being pushed into his toilet bowl. It goes on from there literally or figuratively, such as in his vision chasing Maude in the air and falling to the ground; his falling onto Jackie Treehorn’s table; falling backwards over in the police office in Malibou; and falling forward over his self-applied contraption in his home. But he gets over it all relatively unscathed, both physically and mentally. He bears no grudge to anyone, nor does he learn a lesson either, and soon after the event “it doesn’t even hurt any more.”
There is indeed a dog around the Dude, and we are talking about the Pomeranian here. The first thing it does when let out of its cage is to go and sniff at the Dude’s feet. Perhaps the “marmot” refers to the fierce dog of the older tarot.
The tarot image of Justice is a seated woman holding a sword in one hand and balance scales in the other. Sometimes she is blindfolded to symbolize the impartiality of justice.
Walter is a man who stays firmly by the Rules – such as they appear to him each time. He metes out his justice gun in hand and at one time with a crowbar. A crowbar may not be a weapon but it is a lever and as such it is a close relation of the balance scales of Justice – both tools obeying Archimedes’ law of leverage.
Walter of course is not the righteous or impartial judge he pretends to be. He is nearsighted (physically as well as mentally) and wears orange glasses, which means that he perceives the world literally in monochrome. He is invariably 100% certain when he utters his sentences, and likewise disastrously mistaken when he executes his penalty. After all, everything about the man is a “fucking travesty”. And although he is a bookish man as well as a Vietnam veteran he is wrong about such things as the number of lifes lost on Hill 364 (there were actually no shots fired there) and the breed of Cynthia’s dog.
Walter is a Polish Catholic who has converted to the Jewish faith. He runs a firm called Sobchak Security, abbreviated SS in its logo. He respects National Socialism for being “at least…an ethos”. He’s a man of opposites; his language, for example, simultaneously crude and surprisingly rich.
Donny: the Star
Donny is a star player at the Holly Star. The tarot Star shows a woman pouring water over both land and sea. The card is thus firmly associated with the elements Water end Earth. And so is Donny. “Donny who loved bowling and as a surfer explored the beeches of Southern California from La Holla…and up to Pismo.” One could say, in a sense, that Donny was amphibious. He is mysterious, trusting and hopeful like the Star. Ten stars fade into darkness at his death. Even the Folger’s tin can that holds his ashes has a starlike picture on it.
Dude’s car: the Chariot
The image shows a chariot driven by a warrior. The Dude may not be a warrior exactly – pacifist is a term he self-applies – but his car undeniably takes part in some real-world skirmishes. True, we see no tank battles here, but let’s not forget the following incidents: The car is driven to battle by a stalwart Vietnam veteran. The car is at the receiving end of friendly fire in that same fight. It is involved in several crashes with various obstacles. It is stolen by a dunce and rescued by the police. It is violently attacked and beaten up by someone who might well be a Chinaman. Finally in an apocalyptic spectacle it is burned to cinder by German nihilists.
The registration number on the Dude’s car is 376 PCE. The letters of course spell peace, well befitting the pacifist owner. And if this declaration of peace may seem somewhat incongruous on a vehicle of war it may also serve as a gentle reminder that “pacifism is not something to hide behind”.
In the tarot deck the cardinal number of the Chariot is 7. Does this have anything to do with the number 376 on the Dude’s car? Well, let’s take the sum of the digits – a standard procedure in numerology: 3 + 7 + 6 equals 16. Adding those digits again gives the final result 7.
The Stranger: the Magician
The image of the Magician shows a man standing behind a table laid out with various objecs. In older tarot (such as the Marseilles, shown right) he wears a wide brimmed hat. In Waite‘s deck the symbol of infinity hovers over his head insted of a hat. The tumbeling tumbleweed of the film may allude to that symbol.
The Stranger wears a cowboy hat and we only see him in front of a bar table. He is a mysterious figure as he apparently does not take part in the action of the film but acts purely as an all-seeing, and prescient storyteller. Clearly he has great affinity with the Dude although he seems to understand him and his world rather dimly. Strange things, smacking of the magical, happen when he is around, such as Maude’s phone call to the Dude at the nadir of his misery.
Martin ‘Marty’ Randall: the World
It is befitting for the Dude’s landlord to be a symbol for the world – our blue, hospitable planet. We first meet him – a man of round shape, wearing a blue T-shirt – when he is literally running his circle. He drops by to collect rent but does it without so many words. He asks the Dude to come and see his “Cycle” – his “Dance Quintet” – and to give him notes. The word “cycle” may mean the orbit of a celestial body. His surname, Randall, may by its similarity to “around all” suggest a globe or an orbit, and “Martin” (which derives from “Mars”) may allude to Mars, the heavenly body. All these words and names harp on the same cosmic theme.
The tarot World shows us a scantily clad woman performing a dance. Around her is an elliptically shaped wreath of leaves. In the four corners of the card are the four living creatures that draw the throne-chariot of God according to the Book of Ezekiel. The same four beasts have in Christianity come to symbolize the Evangelists. Together the five beings on the card might constitude the Quintet of the landlord’s dance.
In the Landlord’s absurd and pathetic Dance Quintet we see a plump man dressed in little but leaves who, after a Promethean struggle, seems to break out from a world of shadows and appearances and enter a real world – of pain. He seems to scale a rock in the form of a stool and from there to reach out for the stars, hopelessly – with the abyss, so to say, yawning all around him.
The grotesque dance is set to the music of Mussorgsky’s Dwarf – appropriate for the creature that Goethe’s Mephisto calls Earth’s little god – which is Man. Laughable as is his pathos, not one in the small audience even smiles.
The Big Lebowski: the Emperor
The image shows an elderly man sitting in a formal chair decorated with horned animal heads. He holds a sceptre in one hand and a golden ball in the other. According to Wikipedia the Emperor may stand for Fathering, Stability, Authority, Power, Status quo, Egocentrism, Tradition, Inflexibility, and Conservative ways.
The big Lebowski is indeed bound to a wheelchair. He holds strong consevative opinions and is both egocentric and inflexible. In his home he is surrounded by bronce statues of dancing women and power figures. There is a mirror on his wall which dares onlookers to compare their achievements with his.
Maude Lebowski: the High Priestess
The image shows a young woman sitting between two columns as if residing in a temple. She is reading from the Torah. Maude may represent this archetype. There are indeed colums in her home-atelier-temple. The first time she meets the Dude there she sermonizes him literally ex cathedra. Her speech then sounds as if she were reading a sacred text aloud – albeit without 100% conviction. She is strangely innocent about the world, and her surroundings are arty, luxurious, and barren. Even her video artist of a friend looks and sounds like a castrato. For all we know she may have lived chaste for years and she is financially independent of her father: a vestal virgin.
At this point, however, she knows she’s getting involved in something akin to a love affair. And from now on we see her changing into a natural woman.
Jackie Treehorn: the Devil
The Devil is the giveaway card in TBL: The image of a man with a huge, erect penis automatically drawn by Jackie Treehorn during a telephone call. This is the Devil in tarot. (The Waite version, shown right, is politely understated.)
The Devil symbolizes amongst other things slavery to lust. In the Waite deck he is shown on a black background of night with a blazing torch in hand, naked humanoids chained to his pedestal. He has goatish features – horns and, sometimes, hooves.
Jackie Treehorn, the pornographer, is clearly associatied with lust, darkness and fire. The Dude is forced to meet him at a party where naked people – some looking more like dybbuks than men – are frolicking around a bonfire. Jackie himself seems to materialize out of earth, fire and shadow. His gait is unstedy and goatish. A fire burns in his luxurious sitting room. He laments how standards have fallen in adult entertainment: “Now…we can’t afford to invest in little extras like story, production value, feelings.”
Francis Connally: Death
Death is depicted in many tarot decks (such as in the Marseilles, shown at right) and in common lore as a man or a skeleton reaping with a scythe. An undertaker is by vocation firmly associated with death, and doubly so is Francis Connally in TBL.
FC appears first in the film walking up from his underground vault to meet his guests. His voice is hollow and monotonous. On his desk lies a very long paper knive in an awkward position, symbolizing the scythe. There is a long upright Byro pen on his desk which may allude to the handle of the scythe. He explains to the guests that he runs “a mortuary, not a rental house.” Our heroes are blissfully ignorant of whom they are talking to. They argue with Death and get the better of him.
The Nihilists: the Tower
The Tower is an image of the downfall of a tower-like building being destroyed by lightning and fire in the darkness of night. This is how we see the German nihilists most of the time. They are creatures of the night leaving destruction in their wake. Their apocalyptic final scene looks like a caricature of the finale of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung: The Nihilists stand in the car park armed with conventional weapons and – remarkably – a ghetto-blaster. In the background we see the Dude’s car ablaze. Instead of the soft music of the Rhine Maidens the Nihilists blast out – ugh – techno pop. The Nihilists stand squarely for annihilation – Vernichtung. No funny stuff here.
Bunny Lebowski: the Sun
The first time we see Bunny she is out sunbathing and varnishing her toenails surrounded by summer and summer‘s joys. She is a beauty with blond hair and a radiant smile. She beams out joi de vivre in a film that is otherwise somewhat noir. Her aging husbands affirms that “she is the light of my life”.
We also see her at night driving a red sports car moving sexily to joyful music. That drive ended in the water of a fountain. The sun also sets. The last thing we see of her is when she has torn off her red clothes and runs naked a’dancing to celebrate a new day.
Jesus Quintana: the Moon
The tarot image shows the moon, double as it were with a crescent in the shape of a human face within the full moon. The Moon may amongst other things symbolize insanity. Jesus and Leon seem to represent this image materialized in two persons. Leon emphatically is of a full round shape while Jesus is tall and thin and does bend and sway into crescent-like forms like the inconstant moon. He and Leon dress variously in violet and blue colors. And lets‘s not forget – let’s NOT forget – that Jesus is not merely a pervert – he’s also a looney.
They took life as it came, gladly; took death as it came, without care… These are the ones we call true men.
Many achievers accept that the Dude is based on concepts of Far-Eastern origin. He is frequently likened to the Taoist ideal of man – who in turn is sometimes likened to a fool – and this Eastern connection is often taken for granted when discussing things Dude.
There certainly are references to Eastern things in TBL. There is for example the posture which the Dude assumes on his new rug – reminiscent of Tai Chi or the Dance of Shiva. There is his Japanese cookery book and the box with Chinese inscription in his wardrobe (the receptacle of a beaded curtain). It is possible to find passages in the Lao Tzu or the Chuang Tzu which fit the Dude quite well, and this is probably not coincidental. But actually the film refers to the East mainly as a theater of war and to the people of the East as adversaries – albeit worthy ones. Amongst the few literal references to Eastern things in the text are the whimsical words yoga and Nagelbett and of course the all encompassing Oriental rug.
The foremost of all Chinamen in the film and the only one with a name is Wu – Jackie Treehorn’s goon who with fateful consequences pees on the Dude’s rug. Now, of course we know no Chinese, but his name – Wu – and his spontaneous watery action does ring a bell for someone who once dabbled in Taoism. The term wu wei is an important concept in Taoism and has been translated as “without action” or “without effort”. In that context it signifies natural or spontaneous action in harmony with Tao, which in Taois texts is often likened to the flow of water. The whole episode of the rug being micturated upon by a Chinaman called Wu may thus amount to a parody of a central tenet of Taoism – the doctrine of spontaneus action likened to flowing water.
The words wu wei may also be translated as “not doing” (wu meaning no, not or without, and wei can mean to be, to do or doing according to online dictionaries). As such these words are descriptive of the Dude’s idle lifestyle. And the first words the Dude says when he realizes what Wu is about to do are “Hey! Don’t do –”. In the parlance of the East the Dude may, if we understand it correctly, just be saying “wu wei”.
The philosophy of TBL seems to us – and this is our point – to be firmly rooted in Judeo-Christian thought. This is clear from its references to the Bible, to the tarot, to existentialism, to Americana of various kinds, and possibly to Kabbala. We’ll allow of course that all allusions to religions and philosophies in TBL are whimsical, flippant, and cryptic. The Dude – in the sense of the tarot being the Fool – trancends all this, however, and is bound and bounded by noone and nothing.
The wise men of Taoism and Zen tend to be abstract and otherworldly – some might say both bloodless and sexless – but not so the Dude. He is entirely of this world, this time and place. The philosophy of the Dude may not be much of an Eastern thing after all. Far from it. But then – as a wiser fella than myself once said – if you go far enough West you’ll come to the East.
 Quoted from the online script of TBL at http://bednark.com/big.lebowski.script.html
 “Us” in this text can refer to me – the royal me as it were – or it can mean “Sigga and me”, Sigga being my special lady and a great achiever in her own right.
 Shakespeare, Julius Cesar Act V Scene 5.
 Job, 42:6, American King James version.
 According to Ray Smith, a soldier of the 1st Battalion 69th Armor in Viet Nam,
 From Walter’s funeral speech.
 Walter‘s words.
 According to http://www.thefreedictionary.com/
 From the Chuang Tzu, Thomas Merton’s translation.
 Cf. Tao Te Ching, ch. 8, http://www.wussu.com/laotzu/laotzu08.html
Arch Dude Of York says
Far out man! I enjoy studying here at the Dude University!!!
The Carpet Pissers Did This says
I really dig your style.
There is no particular philosophy nor religion that can contain the Dude. He is outside of them all, living the truth of them all. He simply is. As all religion and philosophy can only ever be an arrow pointing toward the truth, so too is His Dudeness.
The Dude achieves anyway.
Julius Valsson says
Ótrúlega skemmtilegar og frumlegar pælingar hjá þér. Þú ert gamla góða MR til sóma.
Another tarot card would be Karl Hungus = Hanged Man . Karl is Scandinavian name meaning Man
that’s interesting, man. “Karl” indeed still is the preferred nomenclature for “man” in Icelandic. The Coens must have made up this name on purpose but of course they may be joking.
K.H. is a person in a porn film and does not seem (to me) to have anything to do with the symbolism of the Hanged Man of tarot. But I’ve always found it peculiar how he resembles an angel and repeats the Judeo-Christian term “I am” (and “Ich bin”).
Unspoken messages: interesting stuff. Some of the tarot interpretations seem a bit open. The Duffield interpretation of ‘A serious man’ http://www.zen48963.zen.co.uk/ references the Big lebowski in a few places.
Perhaps both films have the same underlying structure of the tree of life.
Big Lebowski Kabbalah Tarot images can be found on the site below.
Don Ellis says
How many people are in the scene when Donny’s ashes are tossed into the Pacific?
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