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peaceful buddha toy By Arch Dudeship Dwayne Eutsey

In The Dude Abides—The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers, award-winning religious columnist Cathleen Falsani offers a unique and engaging look at the “spiritual messages” she finds permeating the Coen Brothers’ movies.

Now, “spiritual message.” Odds are, that’s not what most moviegoers expect to find in the darkly comic and brutally violent cinematic vision of Joel and Ethan Coen. Neither is the word “gospel,” for that matter. While wisely resisting the temptation to cram their films into what she calls a “God-shaped box,” Falsani succeeds for the most part in tracing the theological threads she sees holding the “Coeniverse” together.

skater jesus She writes, “While marked by murder, mayhem, deception, and all manner of chaos, there is an order—a moral order—to the world depicted in Joel and Ethan Coen’s films. That’s the good news. The bad news is that when the moral order is upset, the consequences can be dire, brutal, and swift.”

Published by Zondervan, a Christian book publisher whose mission, according to its website, is to produce “resources that glorify Jesus Christ and promote biblical principles,” The Dude Abides will probably challenge (in a good way) the expectations of Zondervan’s religious readers as well as the more secular-minded among Coen Brother fans.

As a self-described “sometimes churchgoing Catholic-turned-Baptist-turned-freelance Episcopalian” who has interviewed the likes of Bono from U2 and some guy who ran for president named Barack Obama, Falsani is certainly up to the challenge of navigating her work between the two groups. Her down-to-earth writing style glides easily from summarizing convoluted Coen Brother movie plots to drawing from Zen Buddhism, Jewish mysticism, and her own open-hearted Christian faith to interpret them.

coen brothers The book covers each of the Coen Brothers’s movies, from their 1986 debut Blood Simple to A Serious Man (due out this fall), with each chapter focusing on a different film. Falsani uses a “forest and the trees” approach to organizing the chapters, providing a short overview of the movie first, followed by a more in-depth theological discussion of it before concluding with a brief “Moral of the Story.” This structure not only provides a great introduction to each movie for those who are unfamiliar with the films, but also appeals to a die-hard Coen Brothers fan like me.

falsani on pbs Falsani’s movie analyses should also intrigue the uninitiated and fans alike. She sees the Coen oeuvre as consisting broadly of cautionary tales (such as Blood Simple), “Judeo-Christian morality plays” (like Fargo), holy fools (Hi McDunnough in Raising Arizona), foolish hubris (Barton Fink), and unflinching explorations of the nature of evil, Job-like suffering, and the distance or seeming absence of God (No Country for Old Men, A Simple Man).

Her interpretations also provide nuanced ways of understanding the quirky characters populating Coen Brother films. For example, she places The Dude (the burnout main character of The Big Lebowski) within kabbalistic lore as a lamed-vavnik, “a righteous soul with whom the eventual healing of the world abides”. Other theological takes may seem a little strained, though. The pregnant sheriff in Fargo, Marge Gunderson, is certainly an endearingly good-hearted character, but is she the dude abides by cathleen falsanireally a redeeming Christ figure as Falsani posits?

There are other interpretative quibbles I have, but, as The Dude would say, that’s just, like, my opinion and her opinion, man. Besides, that may just be the point. Falsani doesn’t intend for her book to be a definitive study of all things Coen. With its section of group study questions at the end, the book’s intention may be to help elicit conversations (albeit from a more or less Christian frame of reference) about these complex movies (sample: “After exploring the Coens’ fourteen films, what do you think the two brothers make of God?”).

For Falsani, the Coen Brothers’ cinematic gospel is more concerned with posing life’s deepest questions than it is with providing us with ultimate answers to them. In The Dude Abides, she makes a good-faith effort to offer her responses to the questions the unorthodox filmmakers raise and invites her readers to do the same.

Maybe by sharing our responses with one another in a similar spirit, regardless of our religious faith or lack thereof, we’ll find a way to abide together a little better. And I don’t know about you, but as the Stranger says at the end of The Big Lebowski, I take comfort in that.


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14 Responses to “The Dude Abides…Not Just Coen Brothers Fans Will Take Comfort in That”

  1. chalupa on September 5th, 2009 3:52 pm

    Nice review man. I see you dig her work as well.

  2. GranoblasticMan on September 5th, 2009 5:29 pm

    Far out.

    I’m just gonna go find a cash machine and then get that book.

  3. WeAreSame on September 5th, 2009 8:14 pm

    Dude…is she like, your special lady, or lady friend or something? Slippin’ ya some baksheesh under the table? Why pushing the book so strongly? I beg anyone thinking of purchasing this book to sit down with a sarsparilla at the Border’s coffee lounge, and read a chapter or two, before spending money on it…I know, it’s like, just my opinion, man, but, I don’t want to see my brother Dudeists spending money on something, that, well, just isn’t worth time or money…recaps of the films with a little Christian wisdom?…I’ll stop now, and go back to abiding.

  4. audrey taylor on September 5th, 2009 9:09 pm

    a little christian wisdom? what about her knowledge of zen and buddhist tradition? and how “christian” is seeing the dude as one of the 36 – the lamed vavniks from jewish mysticism?

    i don’t want to be a hard-on about this, dude, but i read it. did you?

    hope you make it to the finals, wearesame.

    sometimes you eat the bar …

  5. Irish Monk on September 5th, 2009 9:10 pm

    Sorry you see it that way, dude. Xianity can definitely rub some dudes the wrong way.
    We in the Church try to be as ecumenical as possible in our outreach to other beautiful traditions. Most of the religious community doesn’t give a shit about us, so it’s nice when we do find kindred spirits in other faiths. In fact, to my knowledge, the Dudespaper employes Christian, Zen Buddhist, Universal Unitarian, and Pastafarian writers…possibly more, that’s just off the top of my head.
    Normally Zondervan’s books are only sold in the christian section of bookstores and pass under the radar of everyone but their target audience. Obviously this won’t be the case with this book given it’s title and subject. Hopefully more people realize that it’s a “christian” book before buying it.
    I’m a heretic/apostate (depending on my mood) but I can’t wait to read it. If you don’t like it, just give your copy to a christian friend. Maybe you’ll convert them!

  6. The Arch Dudeship on September 6th, 2009 3:51 am

    WeAreSame,

    I dig Cathleen’s style, man. Did you read the entire review? I say I don’t necessarily agree with all her interpretations, but that’s cool. I found her point of view so dang inneresting, it don’t matter to the Arch Dudeship.

    I really dug how she honestly and thoughtfully expresses her response to Coen Bros films. She’s a Christian (and not exactly a lightweight, either), so she’s coming at them from that frame of reference. And that’s cool, as the Dude would say, that’s cool.

    I don’t think she’s looking to convert anyone here, WeAreSame, she’s not going to buy them a communion wafer, etc. She’s just sharing with her main audience (liberal-minded evangelicals and maybe some not-so-liberal-minded ones) why she thinks they should take a look at the films she obviously loves so much (as most of us here do, obviously).

    As Irish Monk says, the book’s going to attract the attention of a lot people outside of Zondervan’s main audience. I was trying to suggest that maybe this book will provide an opportunity for two warring segments of our society (here in America, anyway) to maybe enter into a respectful dude-like dialogue instead of a Walteresque shouting match, which seems to be what’s goin’ on a lot these days (townhell meetings, f’rintsance).

    Maybe too much to ask of a book, but then whoda thunk a movie could help start an ethos like ours?

  7. WeAreSame on September 6th, 2009 11:20 am

    Look…man…I’m not messin’ with the Jesus. Truth is truth, and comes in all shapes, and the use of Christian perspective wasn’t what rubbed me the wrong way. And one of my Dudeist heroes, The Dalai Lama, is HUGE on interfaith dialogue, which I support 100%.

    And I’m not lookin’ to kill the poor woman. I wish her happiness and prosperity, etc.

    On the day I received it in the mail, I read half the book, including the chapter on Lebowski, and then perused the rest, but then couldn’t take it anymore.

    Am an avid reader, and have studied all the worlds major religions over the past twenty years. And as stated above, truth is truth, regardless of it’s packaging. I don’t deny that she puts forth some of that truth.

    But, to reiterate my objections:

    1) Any college student in English 101 could tell ya that one of the worst ways to offer a critique or commentary on film is just giving a recap, describing the entire film…especially since most who’re reading the book have already seen the films. A brief recap, with extended commentary, that might’ve worked better for me…and I believe for most others as well.

    and

    2) The picture on the book, the title of the book, are geared towards Dudeist or Lebowski fans, which is not what the book is about. Sure, the fine print says “Gospel According to the Coen Brothers,” but if their pic was on the cover, it wouldn’t sell as many copies, would it?

    Times are tight, and books are’nt cheap. I didn’t say go out and burn the book like a fascist or reactionary. And I’m sure some will find it of value. I just recommended reading through some of it before shelling out of some or your hard earned bakshish.

    Want to read some brilliance? Check out the “Tao Dude Ching” on this very website, and it don’t cost ya nothin’, so you can die with a smile on your face, knowin’ that the good Lord didn’t gyp ya.

    Will stop here. This debate could go on and on, but, ultimately, people believe what they want to believe. I wish Ms. Falsani all the best, but I also wish the same for fellow Dudeists and what they do with their money.

  8. The Arch Dudeship on September 6th, 2009 12:22 pm

    That’s cool, man. I don’t think anyone’s telling you that you’re wrong for what you think. I appreciate hearing your take on it. Hell, write up your objections and publish them as a book review here. I know you said you did at the Dudeism site, but I haven’t been there lately.

    But dude. I don’t think my review was “pushing” the book. Also, I’ve only “met” Falsani online (seems like a nice person, but I’ve got my own lady friend, thank you), so I’m not trying to help her conceive or anything. And there ain’t been any backsheesh exchanged under any tables I’ve been sitting at lately.

    Everyone’s entitled to their opinion. I took the book on its own terms and dug it and wrote about it.

    Is the book “brilliant”? Far from it, dude. Is it an interesting take on some movies I like a lot? Yeah, to me it is.

    Can dudes reading my review and your response and other reviews make up their own minds? I take comfort in knowing they can.

    Obladi oblada life goes on, bra.

    Go in peace, and abide, my friend.

  9. WeAreSame on September 6th, 2009 1:21 pm

    As a wiser fella than me once said, “The world keeps turning.”

    And dude, I so dig yer style, as well as the styles of all my Dudeist brethren, and am fortunate to be part of, well, the whole durned human comedy, because, after all, what’s a hero…wait…kinda lost my train of thought there.

    In anycase, the Dude abides man…the Dude abides.

  10. rockstar on September 6th, 2009 4:52 pm

    The far out thing about this book and all this commentary is that we can all talk about this and not be all reactionary or facist. I dug the book not for what it is, but for making me think outside the box. Magic is everywhere; in this book, in Dudeism, everywhere. You just need to look for it. But, that’s like, my opinion.

  11. WeAreSame on September 6th, 2009 6:49 pm

    I hear ya Rockstar…I think this is the only place where people can disagree without eventually throwing marmots…uh…amphibious rodents…into each others bathtubs…within city limits…well…you know what I mean. The Dude abides man.

  12. The Arch Dudeship on September 6th, 2009 6:59 pm

    Right you are, WeAreSame.

    We don’t want everyone here at the Dudeist church to be cabon copies of each other. If you want that, seriously, try a fundamentalist church of whatever demomination. We dig each other’s style here, whatever it may be. So long as it’s not fascist or reactionary.

  13. Pastor Dirt Dude on September 7th, 2009 11:13 pm

    Nice bit of back-and-forth what-have-you generated by this review. I dig man.

    When I stop losing all my notes in my sofa and write a review, a hope it sparks some interest somewheres on these here intranets

  14. greatspiritmonk on September 7th, 2009 11:30 pm

    Well, I haven’t red the book yet, so maybe I’m going to say something stupid.
    Anyhow, from my point of view every world religion begun almost in the same way: with a man having a different worldview. The best real representation of Jesus Christ Dude in my opinion is the Buddy Christ in the movie Dogma. An easy man; and I guess Buddha was quite the same. So we have the two man who gave birth to two of the greatest religions very similare and quite easy going. I guess both of them would have liked the Dude too. And I’ve heard that even the Quran isn’t so fundamentalist as it seems.

    What’s the point? Well, everyone in the world can be at the same time Christian, Buddist and Dudeist provided they follow the easyness (?) of the founders.
    And even if the book isn’t exceptional I guess it will help spread Dudeism. And that’s good.

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