The Dude Continues to Abide

lebowski082508 The Dude Continues to AbideIn the new issue of Rolling Stone—the one that features Sean Wilentz’s "How Bush Destroyed the Republican Party" on its cover—Andy Greene writes about the enduring appeal of the Coen Brothers’ 1998 film, The Big Lebowski.

That the movie was a flop and yet has grown into an enormously successful cult phenomenon, including its own circuit of Trekkie-like conventions has been well-documented. In March, Entertainment Weekly‘s Clark Collis offered a personal take on the movie and its afterlife called "The Dude & I":

I don’t think I had ever tasted a White Russian prior to attending my first Lebowski Fest in 2003, but since then I’ve consumed far more than anyone with high cholesterol should. I now bowl regularly, if poorly, and without entirely understanding the points system. These days when I’m stressed about work, I find myself thinking, ”What would the Dude do?” even if the inevitable answer — ”Go bowling” — is not likely to lessen my chances of being fired.

Here’s how Mr. Greene describes the film’s appeal in Rolling Stone:

The odd truth is this man—the Dude—may have been a decade ahead of his time. Today, as technology increasingly handcuffs us to schedules and appointments—in the time it takes you to read this, you’ve missed three e-mails—there’s something comforting about a fortysomething character who will blow an evening lying in the bathtub, getting high and listening to an audiotape of whale songs. He’s not a 21st-century man. Nor is he Iron Man—and he’s certainly not Batman. The Dude doesn’t care about a job, a salary, a 401(k), and definitely not an iPhone. The Dude just is, and he’s happy.

This calls to mind an essay Jeff Bridges, the actor who portrayed "The Dude" in the film, contributed to I’m A Lebowski, You’re A Lebowski, a 2007 book about the film. In an excerpt of the essay in The Guardian, Mr. Bridges tells of a devotee of Zen Buddhism suggesting to him that The Dude is a Zen Master.

"I don’t think of the Dude as a fancy spiritualist or anything like that. But I can see what these folks are talking about," Mr. Bridges wrote. "There’s enough room in the movie that a lot can be read into it."

In its interpretive elasticity (is The Dude "platform agnostic"?), The Big Lebowski is a lot like Groundhog Day, which The New York Times‘ Alex Kuczynski described in 2003 as "a curious favorite of religious leaders of many faiths, who all see in ‘Groundhog Day’ a reflection of their own spiritual messages."

Ms. Kuczynski was prompted to write that after Groundhog Day was included in a Museum of Modern Art film series called "The Hidden God: Film and Faith." As luck would have it, The Big Lebowski is currently part of a MoMA series as well: A retrospective of the Coen Brothers’ work running through the end of the month.

The Big Lebowski is playing Wednesday.