August 16 2013
Sometimes there’s a man. I am going to say a hero. And I’m talkin’ ‘bout The Dude here. Perhaps an unlikely one, but that makes his character all the better. In 1949, mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote The Hero With A Thousand Faces, the central argument of the book is that there is one central story that stretches across every culture, and that is the hero story. He calls it the Monomyth. The structure of the monomyth has been created organically by every culture, religion, and tribe in existance. Examples of the monomyth are the Buddha, Hercules, Jesus Christ, Odysseus, the Aztec Tezcatlipoca, and many others. In honor of our heros we erect buildings, call on their name, drink their drinks, dress like them, follow their ideologies, hold festivals, and watch their movies.
In his book, Joseph Campbell outlined the journey that a hero takes. I have carefully taken his guidelines and alligned them with The Dude. No hero story is perfectly in line iwth these, and theat is why they are all unique. Lebowski is the hero of the 90's. He has a moral compass that guides him, a proverbial "line in the sand." But he is not perfect. At the same time that he seeks justice for his rug, he drinks, drives, and enjoys the occasional joint. An improbable hero he may be, but a hero nonetheless.
See how Campbell's criteria fit into the Cohen Brothers narrative.
1. THE ORDINARY WORLD. The hero, uneasy, uncomfortable or unaware, is introduced sympathetically so the audience can identify with the situation or dilemma. The hero is shown against a background of environment, heredity, and personal history. Some kind of polarity in the hero’s life is pulling in different directions and causing stress.
The ordinary world brings the centuries old hero story to the present. The opening lines mark a specific place in time for the dude: early 1990’s, Persian gulf, George Bush Sr., the hippy revolution is over, the bums lost, the dude is just trying to get by, abiding, if you will.
2. THE CALL TO ADVENTURE. Something shakes up the situation, either from external pressures or from something rising up from deep within, so the hero must face the beginnings of change.
Sure, it’s no earth shattering change, but a line has been drawn in the sand. The dude may be a lazy man, but he has the moral compass and sense of justice that a hero does. Something must be done.
The rug gets the ball rolling in this adventure, but he gets the rug back fairly quickly in the story. The second call comes from the kidnapping of Bunny and quest that ensues.
3. REFUSAL OF THE CALL. The hero feels the fear of the unknown and tries to turn away from the adventure, however briefly. Alternately, another character may express the uncertainty and danger ahead.
That poor woman. After a brush with adventure, our hero has gone far enough. Walter threw the ringer when Bunny’s life was in their hands. In the famous toe scene, The Dude expresses his uncertainty about the road ahead.
4. MEETING WITH THE MENTOR. The hero comes across a seasoned traveler of the worlds who gives him or her training, equipment, or advice that will help on the journey. Or the hero reaches within to a source of courage and wisdom.
Odysseus had Athena, Luke had Yoda, and Harry had Dumbledore. The Dude has our humble Narrator, Sam Elliott. Our mustachioed mentor offers sage advice, and rests assured our White Russian drinking, dope smoking, laid back hero.
5. CROSSING THE THRESHOLD. At the end of Act One, the hero commits to leaving the Ordinary World and entering a new region or condition with unfamiliar rules and values.
As well as just being fantastic artistic and cinematic sequences, the dream sequences in Lebowski serve a storytelling function as well. In most epics, the hero must cross a threshold into a mythical world of the gods. In The Dude’s case, his transition into a world of adventure with unfamiliar rules and values is symbolized through these beautiful dream sequences.
6. TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES. The hero is tested and sorts out allegiances in the Special World.
The Big Lebowski hosts memorable and unique characters that are akin to mythology’s wild beasts. Greek hero Hercules fought the nine headed hydra, the stymphalian birds, and the cattle monster Geryon, among others. Lebowski battles the modern day equivalent of that, fighting a nihilistic German elecro-pop band, known pornographers, mug throwing sheriff pricks, grade school mouth breathers, and sometimes, Vietnam veterans who saw their brothers lying face down in the muck for this country.
7. THE ROAD BACK. About three-fourths of the way through the story, the hero is driven to complete the adventure, leaving the Special World to be sure the treasure is brought home. Often a chase scene signals the urgency and danger of the mission.
8. THE RESURRECTION. At the climax, the hero is severely tested once more on the threshold of home. He or she is purified by a last sacrifice, another moment of death and rebirth, but on a higher and more complete level. By the hero’s action, the polarities that were in conflict at the beginning are finally resolved.
At this point, it seems as though the story is ready to wrap up, they mystery is solved and our man is back to doing what he loves best, bowling. But, the gang faces one last challenge, one that will rip the group apart. In the parking lot of the bowling alley they are confronted by the nihilists, and as a result of the ensuing action, Donny suffers a heart attack and dies. The Dude changes at Donny’s funeral. He finally stands up to Walter, and they hug it out.
9. RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR. The hero returns home or continues the journey, bearing some element of the treasure that has the power to transform the world as the hero has been transformed.
The rug is returned, and a little Lebowski is on the way, the bum won, normalcy is restored, and The Dude Abides.
Lebowski Fest is TONIGHT and we could be more excited. See you there.