35 Chapters
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2 A Once and Future Dude: The Big Lebowski as Medieval Grail-Quest

Edward P Comentale Indiana University Press ePub

Andrew Rabin

Although medieval allegory might seem distant from Lebowski’s “parlance of the times,” references to the Middle Ages—and to the Grail-quest in particular—form a crucial component of the film’s narrative world.1 Like the Old French Queste del Saint Graal, Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzifal, or Malory’s Morte Darthur, The Big Lebowski recounts the adventures of three companions seeking to restore a lost fetish-object. This quest leads them through a contemporary wasteland to the castle of a crippled king whose paraplegia marks him as both sexually and politically impotent. Here, the object is found and lost again, and the goal now becomes to restore the king’s potency, as well as to recover the original object of the search. On his journey, the principal Grail knight experiences allegorical visions and confronts the temptations of the flesh. He encounters both Jesus (Quintana) and Arthur (Digby Sellers) and receives dubious aid from an “Irish monk” (the “brother Seamus,” Da Fino). In perhaps the most obvious Grail allusion, the Dude’s second meeting with the “Big” Lebowski takes place in a neo-Gothic great hall with Wagner’s Lohengrin, an opera based on Wolfram’s Parzifal, playing in the background. The adventure finally ends with the death of the most innocent of the questers and the return of his two companions, sadder yet wiser men. However, despite such obvious similarities between the medieval and modern narratives, the inhabitants of the Dude’s world remain as ignorant of their Arthurian analogues as they seem to be of the Iraq War beginning around them. In this film, the voice of history is that of “a Stranger.” Like the child who wanders in in the middle of a movie, they have, as Walter tells Donny, “no frame of reference.”

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12 Holding Out Hope for the Creedence: Music and the Search for the Real Thing in The Big Lebowski

Edward P Comentale Indiana University Press ePub

Diane Pecknold

Midway through The Big Lebowski, a hapless Dude—having substituted Walter’s phony “ringer” (a bag full of underwear) for Lebowski’s briefcase full of money in delivering ransom to a group of apparent kidnappers—contacts the police to report that his car, with the briefcase and his Creedence Clearwater Revival tapes inside, has been stolen. When he wanly asks whether the police often recover such stolen cars, one of the cops replies, “Sometimes. Wouldn’t hold out much hope for the tape deck, though.” “Or the Creedence,” adds a second cop derisively, suspiciously twiddling the Dude’s bowling-pin-shaped one-hitter between his fingers.

The scene aptly summarizes the pervasive flux between ersatz and authentic that underpins the narrative of the film. The real briefcase, of course, turns out to have been a fake itself. The lost Bunny turns out not to have been lost to the kidnappers at all, and in fact not even to be named Bunny Lebowski, but Fawn Knutsen. And maybe she has been lost after all, since her parents are looking for her. The accumulation of real objects that turn out to be fake, and fake ones that turn out to be real, though never in the way we are led to expect, is the central device of the film’s noir plot. Appropriately, it is within this dizzying array of inauthentic objects of yearning that “the Creedence” is introduced, not just as the music we have heard playing in the car during the ransom payoff, but as a recurring point of identification for the Dude.

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13 Zombie Philosophy

Edward P Comentale Indiana University Press ePub

When we have to change our mind about a person, we hold the inconvenience he causes us very much against him.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Here is a list, very incomplete, of things one should keep in mind when attempting to write seriously about zombies. Zombies do not exist. Zombies are not related to werewolves or vampires.1 Zombies are not, literally, mindless consumers, enraged proletarians, or stupid Americans—although some were perhaps once these things—and there is little use in casting them, even metaphorically, as essentially such, especially when attempting to offer a “theory of zombies.” This is because zombies do not form a natural kind, not even a fictional natural kind. Within the genre, zombies vary greatly in behavior, cognitive power, and athletic ability: some shamble, some run at or near Olympic speeds; some are incapable of manipulating even simple objects, others play video games with erstwhile friends; some behave better, at least not worse, than the living, others are Nazis; some are created by ill-advised government programs, others by hearing (Canadian) English.2

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8 Zombie Race

Edward P Comentale Indiana University Press ePub

Profit, Profit, nigga I got it

Everybody know I’m a motherfucking monster

I’m-a need to see your fucking hands at the concert

I’m-a need to see your fucking hands

Kanye West, “Monster”

It begins with a thump, or rather, a scrape and a thump. Shhh-thump. The monster appears first as sound and then rhythm, or, rather, counter-rhythm. Its presence is made known, paradoxically, by its double absence, one physical and the other temporal.

It lags, behind itself, drags itself, before itself, somewhere in back of you, in front of you, over your shoulder—always where it is not. Shhh-thump. Its second beat is scarier than the first, not just because it is louder, closer, but because it recalls the first. The monster is always in two—two spaces, two times. It approaches as it recedes. It coheres as it falls apart. Each step revives as it destroys. Each step is the death of death, the death of death, over and over again.

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19 Size Matters

Edward P Comentale Indiana University Press ePub

Judith Roof

The Collector’s Edition DVD of The Big Lebowski begins with an appended introduction to the film by Mortimer Young, president of Forever Young Film Preservation. His prologue, in the genre of the ceremonial film introduction, addresses both the casual viewer and the aesthete. Narrating the film’s history and provenance, and preparing the audience for its delights, Young traces the journey of the version that follows, recounting its rediscovery in a dubbed Italian version that has been redubbed into English. What survives, he warns us, is not exactly the original, but close enough for a film that has been destroyed in a fire, multiply translated, lost and found, and restored to us under the title The Grand Lebowski.

How you gonna keep them down on the farm
once they’ve seen Karl Hungus?

In The Big Lebowski, a film with so many pins and balls, with so many penetrations, penetrating looks, and penetrated eye views, one would think there would be an ample supply of penetrations, all big, bulky, and vain. But there are not. Or there are too many soon-to-be disqualified contestants. The only real man in the place seems to be “The” Jesus Quintana, a pastel-coordinated pederastic bowler with a penchant for threatening anal intercourse while waving the hard-on of his prosthetic finger stiffener. Bowling pins are relatively smaller than balls, if we wish at all to ascribe to what seems to be the obvious binary sex symbologies of the bowling alley. But the allegory is not as obvious as it seems, in fact, and it is at best fluidly shifting. Balls penetrate alleys and pins, and bowlers penetrate balls, three-fingering those bounding lasses that serve in turn as their rotund synecdoches, now big roly-polies frotting the standing ten, glancing the circle jerk where nine out of ten on the average come off. Then the benedictions of the great enfolding matrix, a giant set of holes descending on the hapless pins, sucking them up or brushing them off, cupping them in a caressingly careful (re)placement, and beneficently endowing the hungry balls with a ten-pack’s impending generosity.

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