By Duane Hanson
The scene is this: The Big Lebowski is in seclusion in the West Wing of his mansion. His young trophy wife (in the parlance of our times) has been kidnapped and held for ransom. Now he needs the Dude’s help. “What . . . what makes a man Mr. Lebowski?” is the question posed by the Big Lebowski (David Huddleston) to the Dude (Jeff Bridges) as he stares plaintively into the fire. He continues – “Is it, is it being prepared to do the right thing? Whatever the price? Is that what makes a man?” The question invites us to look into the protagonist’s (the Dude’s) morality on display throughout the seminal motion picture of the Coen brothers. What are we to make of this person, “the Dude,” who is dropped into this complex Raymond Chandler-esque mystery and stumbles his way (miraculously) toward a resolution among nefarious schemes and subplots involving nihilists, rug-“micturators,” and known pornographers? Does he care or not give a shit? Does the situation define his behavior or does he create his own destiny? What we do know is that the Dude stands in opposite to the Big Lebowski, a disabled veteran who “achieved” despite his many difficulties and who the audience may have been suckered into placing their sympathies. In the end, of course, the Big Lebowski is the villain and the Dude has resolved the mystery. This is accomplished by the Dude without really understanding how he knows how to solve the mystery. In fact the Dude knows how to do many things without necessarily knowing how to do them (and herein lays the irony). What’s great about the “Dude” and this Coen brothers masterpiece is what it is saying without really saying anything.
Which brings me to the point of this blog – isn’t this how all moral decisions should be made? Shouldn’t we all intuitively make the proper moral decisions without soul-searching or self congratulatory recognition? The Dude entanglements provide plenty of opportunities to display this admirable quality. He does not let the aggression of the rug-pissers stand. He agonizes over the botched money-for-hostage exchange and contemplates the repercussions of failure – “her life was in our hands man!” He stands up to the reactionary Chief of Police of Malibu. The Dude does all these things, even though all he really ever wanted was his rug back. He does them outside of the “legal system,” a concept so arcane his worldview that it is not even considered as an option until absolutely necessary (when his car is stolen). All the while he still finds time to defend Smokey after Walter draws a firearm during league play. So I guess we should all take comfort in the fact that things turned out “pretty well” for him in the end, as the Stranger puts is. After all, if moral decision making can be turned into something this casual, then things may turn out pretty well for all of us, too.