The Dream Abides: The Big Lebowski and the American Dream

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Millie Goebel

Often we watch movies and do one of three things after we finish them: one, we regret spending spending the money to rent it (if we didn’t already illegally download it), second, we have an overwhelmingly cathartic response of feeling either completely helpless or inspired, and third, you have no idea what the hell you just watched. The first time I watched the film the Big Lebowski I thought it was a really strange but humorous movie. I liked the film because the main characters name was dude, which is appealing to a 16 year olds humor, second, there was a big fat who yelled and cursed a lot (we all have one of those in our lives) and lastly, they bowled, and who doesn’t love a movie about a bunch of misfits bowling with some violence, drinking, and money? My dad was a little disappointed in my reaction but he told me to give it a bit and watch it again when I was older in hopes I would appreciate it for the right reasons and understand The Coen brothers intention. 

I have watched the Big Lebowski since the first time when I was 16 and I still like the same aspects of the film as well as the underlying message of the film and its presentation of the American Dream. The article I read this week was titled ” The Dream Abides: The Big Lebowski, Film Noir, and the American Dream.” Classic film noir poses a critique of the American Dream that those who don’t achieve it feel alienated. The Big Lebowski presents a similar critique of late capitalist America by the alienation being amplified from the widening gaps between the rich and the poor and our intolerance to multiculturalism. The film offers a reexamination of the American Dream. The author uses the setting and architecture in the film  as means to prove their argument. The author uses Ken Hills key argument from ” Film Noir and the American Dream: The Dark Side of Enlightenment” that failure to achieve the American Dream creates a sense of failure and with that failure comes alienation, cynicism, and bitterness. This is all evidence of the systematic failure of the American Dream. The American Dream started with the opportunity for success that came with moving to the frontier. Los Angeles is where the film takes place and it clearly demonstrates that there is no room left in L.A for expansion, growth, and opportunity. Jeff Bridges, the Dude, is the main character who has failed to achieve the American Dream and lives in L.A. The film uses the houses that the main characters live in as strategic comparisons to demonstrate the gaps between the rich and the poor. One of the clearest examples of achievement of the American Dream is the house that the Big Lebowkski lives in and the apartment the Dude resides in. The mansion the Big Lebowski represents the relationship of space and the American Dream, “open space breeds an American character who works hard, plays fair, and achieves much so that s/he can then claim a large amount of open space in which to build a house, a home, that descries his/her character.” The apartment the Dude resides in is small, dirty, full of grime, and evidently not the home of an achiever. ” There can be no clearer depiction of the gap between rich and poor in LA than that of the Dudes apartment and the Big Lebowski s mansion. A certain fascination with this gap, how it illustrates the failure of the American Dream…” The paper continues to look at how Americans hold onto the idea of the American Dream, while it is systematically failing. The dream is failing and the middle class is shrinking as a result. Without the model of a productive middle class, the Dude has no example of how hard work and fair play work so he just steals what he wants. 

The main takeaways from this film aside the fact that there is an angry fat man, great music, and white russians, the movie teaches us two things. First, that we are all failures and sinners at one point in our life. We experience adversity, we fall down, and we get back up again. Even though the movie is full of cynicism, failure, and bitterness it has a happy and almost optimistic ending.

“After all, all the Dude wanted was his rug back, ‘because it really tied the room together, man,’ which might just be the ultimate lesson of The Big Lebowski : if we respect one another, we might just be able to pull together, we might just be able to reclaim something of the American Dream.”

By: Millie Goebel (2014)