The Archetypal Lebowski
“There was a lot about the Dude that didn’t make a whole lot of sense. And a lot about where he lived, likewise. But then again, maybe that’s why I found the place so darned interestin’.” – The Stranger
The Big Lebowski is cinematic perfection carved from archetypal oppositions. It is The Dude versus The Man throughout; the prototypical anti-authority figure versus a series of archetypal Fathers and Kings. Nearly a century ago, Antonia “Toni” Wolff observed a pair of binary axis in the psyche; two essential oppositions that constitute a significant part of human personality. One of these primary tensions is between our draw to community and away from it, toward freedom. We know toward which of these poles The Dude swung.
Our most beloved movies are the most archetypal ones.
The greatest movies are always archetypally true and The Big Lebowski gets its true-to-life color from fanning out a bright rainbow of authority figures. From the chief of police of Malibu (“a real reactionary”), to the fellas down at the league office, to Mr. Lebowski and Walter, the film is driven by the Dude’s interaction with power figures. These characters–many of whom are based on real life friends of the Coen brothers–are all archetypal King or Father types: men who are deeply invested in their own authority (“this aggression will not stand”); men who are strongly opinionated about right and wrong (“the bums will always lose!”); and men whose identity comes through attachment to community (“three thousand years of beautiful tradition”). As the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers would no doubt attest, these men are also about doing for; whether it’s for their “quiet little beach community” or their country, they want to be of service. At the same time, these are men who are unconsciously driven by shadow power drives (“shut the fuck up Donnie!”). The Father-King is often compelled to make things right and even to use force to do so (“mark it zero!”). Are they wrong? “You’re not wrong you’re just an asshole.”
El Duderino epitomizes of the opposite archetype: he hates authority (and is completely disconnected from society and worldly values (“’Dude . . . uh, tomorrow’s already the tenth.’”); he’s the eternal boy, more brother-type than Father figure for sure. And even if he’s unconscious of it, there is something of the trickster in him, a measure of the clown. We give the title ‘Seeker’ to this way of being, but no one word title could ever properly sum up an archetype (certainly not this one). The Seeker is a little more in touch with his Feminine side – he’s comfortable with the “feminine form” and the “natural zesty enterprise.” This archetype is the Lover too and The Dude is most certainly that.
What’s an archetype Walter? An archetype is a primordial pattern that (usually unconsciously) guides how we create our lives. As with birds and their nests, your archetype suggests your modus operandi, the way you want to roll through life, the parts of life to which you are drawn and the ones which automatically repel you (“the fucking Eagles man!,” “do you have to use so many cuss words?”).
I guess what I’m trying to tell you is that this is one of the ways that the “whole darned human comedy keeps perpetuatin’ itself.”
The Big Lebowski is constructed out of these mirrors of opposition in the human DNA; it’s a study in deep archetypal contrasts. This is made visually explicit when the Dude encounters Mr. Lebowski’s wall of awards and plaques–“Are you a Lebowski achiever?” The movie is about authority (“get your own fucking cab!”) and the exchange of it (“her life is in your hands Dude”), who deserves it and who does not (“he doesn’t approve of my lifestyle and I don’t approve of his”). The authority figures initiate all of the action–the Dude only abides. He is an anti-hero; the movie is not about what he does (“fuck it”). The movie happens to him.
“Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that’s the Dude.”
As happens in many naturalistic (and psychologically healthy) folktales of the anti-hero form, our protagonist (“and I’m talking about the Dude here”) succeeds by going with the flow, by being guileless and in harmony with events, by being in accord with the Tao (“is that some kind of Eastern thing?”).
Have no doubt this is a story about “what makes a man, Mr. Lebowski?” There’s The Dude’s way and everyone else’s modes of assertion and control–they can be very un-Dude. However we do get shown some good sides of his opposite archetype; Walter, for one, shows its cellular-level loyalty and devotion to a brother. And in the end The Stranger shows us the mature form of the King: he knows The Dude is different from him and he doesn’t understand him, but he isn’t envious or rejecting. The Stranger sees The Dude’s good qualities–you could maybe even go as far as to say he blesses him. Or that could be just, like, my opinion, man.
“The Dude abides. I don’t know about you but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowin’ he’s out there. The Dude. Takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners.”
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