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The Psychology of Sobchak

Section: A World of Pain  | Date: September 18th, 2012

walter rugAn in-depth analysis of Walter Sobchak, his attitudes and personality

By Rev. Pat Bratton

At first glance Walter Sobchak seems a person whom time has passed by. He is someone who has reached an age at which the world no longer resembles the one in which he learned to survive.

The problem is that, for Walter, the world was never as he wanted it to be, and he never quite fits into it. He is continually confronting the gap, refusing to admit that his perceptions might be wrong.

Walter can of course be very pleasant, so long as he perceives that others treat him with courtesy, and respect the things about which he cares. But when someone fails to follow his protocols in an interaction it immediately throws him into a fit of rage–“There are rules,” and you have violated them.  It is not that he wants his way because it is his way, but because he believes that way is right, fair, and respectful. 

You are more likely to assailed by Walter if you fail to remove your hat when the flag is passing by than if you accidentally drop something on his foot. walter nirvanaAccidents are a part of life, but blatant and premeditated disrespect for important values is a hanging offense.  Walter believes that you know everything that he knows. If you don’t, then he will take the time to explain it to you. If you don’t believe, discount what he says, or merely don’t understand him, then you are a “dipshit,” a “fucking amateur”or at the very least “out of your element.” 

Walter has studied everything worth knowing: “I once dabbled in pacifism myself”  he admits. He is cultured, sophisticated and witty. But if you embarrass him in any situation and demonstrate that he is not really any of these things, then you have “crossed the line” and justice will be swift, though often disastrous.

Despite his erudition, Walter’s greatest shortcoming is that he is naïve. Just as the Dude’s bowling poster icon Richard Nixon didn’t know how to properly break the law and bungled it, Walter’s expertise and savvy seems to come mostly from books and movies.  His sophisticated plan for securing information from kidnappers is to “grab one of them and beat it out of ‘um.” 

walter angryWalter is a man whose personal life is in such chaos that he relies on “rules” in order to provide concrete support. Otherwise he could not function and would drown in the disorder and uncertainty of everyday life.  Pulling a handgun on poor Smokey because of a minor disagreement is an example of this.  “Am I the only one here who gives a shit about the rules?” he screams as he cocks the gun. If one slip is allowed to slide, all of civilization is bound to follow.

Walter was most impressed when the Dude told him that the assailants were Nihilists. Walter responds,“Nihilists! Fuck me! Say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism [Nazism], at least it’s an ethos.” To Walter, no rules is far worse than terrible rules.

The Nihilists were in fact the polar opposite of Walter.  He considered them very dangerous people because of their lack of values. This is most telling at the end of the movie when they complain “it’s not fair” that they aren’t going to get the ransom money. Walter shouts, “Fair! Who’s the Nihilist here?” I think that he was most angry because they had violated there own no-value system by suddenly insisting on values. They had broken their own rules!

walter perfectly calmThis is my favorite part of the movie. These “fucking amateurs” decide that they will accept what ever cash Donny, the Dude and Walter have on them in lieu of the ransom.  Everyone seems okay with this except for Walter, who shouts: “No! What’s mine is mine!” It calls to mind Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit, standing alone against two armies, refusing to give up the dragons horde of treasures.  Donny’s telling concern, “Are they going to hurt us?” is assuaged by Walter’s first show of kindness to him, “No Donny, these men are cowards.” Which of course demonstrates that Walter has no idea how serious the situation really is. 

The most phenomenal thing is that when the three of them attack, Walter, who has a pistol in his bowling bag, instead of ending it right there and making them leave, throws the bag at one of them, breaking three of his ribs. Then he rips another’s ear off with his teeth and punches him in the face. This is all typical action-movie behavior.  It’s not the way real people would act, but Walter approaches life through the lens of cinema and literature. 

It can be crippling to go through life this way, never growing, never building on ideas and incorporating the inevitable changes in beliefs and values that knowledge and experience requires.  I cry for Walter because he seems so very real to me. This is a man who, like a moth around a flame, just keeps going in circles, burning himself in frustration and anger.

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10 Responses to “The Psychology of Sobchak”

  1. newton on September 19th, 2012 11:48 pm

    Yes, i agree with you all. Quick tempered, unpredictable, violent people can be quite cool and fun to hang around. i like them as much as i like road ragers and pat robertson/bibi netanyahoo.

  2. Phelps on September 20th, 2012 4:03 pm

    Why the Netanyahu comment? Is this an anti-semetic thing? You talk about road ragers, but you seem to much angrier than Walter ever was. He is indeed calmer than you are.

    Walter isn’t unpredictable. He’s entirely predictable. Walter didn’t pull a piece on Smokey because he was arguing with him. Walter argued the entire movie. Smokey got dealt on because he flatly denied what Walter knew to be a fact. Walter saw Smokey’s foot go over the line, yet Smokey denied and essentially called Walter a liar. At that point, in Walter’s mind, Smokey is now Beyond Reason. Walter deals with people who cannot be reasoned with using violence. It wasn’t temper — Walter was very controlled and immediately backed down when Smokey conceded.

    Maybe you’re just having a hard time here, but you are writing with a lot of anger and almost no empathy. It’s like you find a way to label people as your enemy, and then immediately dehumanize them. Your thinking is very uptight, man. You’re worrying about far too much shit that just doesn’t matter when it comes to reaching Dudevana.

  3. newton on September 22nd, 2012 10:40 am

    Angry? Yes. Violent? Definitely not. I came to this website thinking that people would be interested in peace, love, and understanding.

    Instead, all i see is worship of Sobchak – a violent, domineering, warmongering, militarist. I would’ve thought followers of the Dude would embrace peace and social justice as they denounce the mass killing of innocent people to control land and expand right wing agendas (that’s what Pat Robertson and Netanyahoo stand for – it’s a lame attempt by you to shut down a differing opinion simply by calling someone an anti-semite, even when the truth is so obvious).

    But, i find that the emphasis of this website is for y’all to talk about being calm and cool and hip and presumably stoned, as the Dude did. Definitely not the place to question immorality. Right wing neocon hippies… this makes me very sad.

    i’ve lost faith in this website and Dudeism and i’m definitely in the wrong place.

  4. Andrew M on September 22nd, 2012 3:11 pm

    Newton, that’s like your opinion man.

  5. The Dudespaper on September 22nd, 2012 7:40 pm

    Newton, Dudeism is a lot of things. But one thing we’re definitely not is idealistic. An important part of Dudeism is pragmatism – we understand that people are stuck in certain patterns or are driven by certain emotions and that we’re not going to change them by casting them aside. This article is in sympathy for Walter, understanding that his violence and anger come from a place of deep frustration, and in fact from a type of idealism that we should avoid, as Dudes, if we don’t want to get swallowed up in frustration as well. We all know Walter is a fucking asshole and a goddamned moron. But it’s our job to try to tame the beast – not kill him. By the way, we recently did a survey and it seems as if some 90 percent of the Dudeist community is Leftist Libertarian. Very few neocon hippies here. Not sure what that would be though. Is that like an atheist Jihadist?

  6. The Dudespaper on September 22nd, 2012 7:44 pm

    Also, if all you see is worship of Sobchak, you’re not looking very far. We’ve only recently published two articles taking a look at Walter (this and dudespaper.com/the-zen-of-walter.html/ ). But generally we’re all about following the example of the Dude. Please look a little deeper into the hundreds of far out articles in the Dudespaper and also at Dudeism.com

  7. Phelps on September 24th, 2012 7:02 am

    Newton, the Dude isn’t political, man. As the Dude said, “Fuck it! I can’t be worrying about that shit. Life goes on!” He’s quoting Bush 41 in the first 20 minutes of the film, man. People are people.

    I hope you find whatever philosophy brings you peace, man. A lot of my friends who fought in Nam found it through Buddhism — you might want to start there instead. I think Dudeism sort of presumes that you have at least an understanding of that Eastern Thing before you do the Western Thing.

  8. Phelps on September 24th, 2012 7:15 am

    Part of the problem with the the idea of a neocon hippie now is that neocon doesn’t really have a definition anymore beyond an anti-semetic slur. That’s why I asked about anti-semitism — if someone seems to have a particular hatred of a well-known Jewish convert and also uses anti-semetic dog whistles, I’ve gotta consider the option.

    In any event, I’m sort of a right wing libertarian. I don’t think that throwing people in jail for doing stuff that only hurts themselves does anything good for society, but at the same time, what is mine is mine, nihilist. I’ll give you the shirt off my back if you ask for it, but if you try to take it from me, you’ll never get it.

  9. Doctor Joe on October 8th, 2012 7:39 am

    Wow there everyone. I think we are getting off track and too far into the weeds. This is an opinion piece about Walter and his place in the story. Walter is about values. He has a set drawn up in his mind that he is willing to defend and stand for. In this case abiding by ‘rules’ He expects everyone to know, and follow, “the rules”. Yes he is angry and emotional, and calms down quickly. Can’t we agree that he his ‘passionate’ about his ethos?
    This is a forum for opinions and discussion. I’m starting to see posturing and heavy opinions coming through. Let’s learn from each other, then have an oat soda to top it off.

  10. Wes on March 14th, 2016 9:10 pm

    I think the article’s analysis is nearly spot-on. Where it totally loses me is where it attempts to portray Walter’s actions immediately before the epic fight with the nihilists as evidence of Walter’s failure to appreciate the seriousness of the situation. I think Walter was perfectly able to assess the dangers of the situation, and still made the decision to engage in combat as opposed to “ending it cheap”. This is easily explained by Walter’s strong commitment to his values, which apparently never wavers regardless of the situation. The way Walter sees it, he would be in a far greater world of hurt if he were to capitulate to the nihilists as opposed to risking life and limb fighting them. The fact that he neglected to break out his firearm indicates to me that Walter deeply relished the opportunity to engage in hand to hand combat with the nihilists. Whatever the case, I cannot abide, given all that is known about Walter, that he acted in ignorance of the risk that he was taking.

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