Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Out of Place and Vietnam

I believe that “The Big Lebowski” is making a point about the veterans of Vietnam and how they live in the current era.

The Dude and Walter are stuck in a time frame that is foreign to them. They do not communicate well with the current society and tend to keep to themselves. When the rug is taken, the Dude is taken along with the rug, out of his hiding place and into a world that is so bright it is almost blinding. He is forced to leave his element on a bizarre journey to find the coveted oriental piece. The problems occur when he runs into characters that seem outside of his time period and more modern. For example, towards the end of one of his visits with Maude Lebowski, Maude (and the other guy in the room) pick up the phone and begin to talk in another language. As the talking continues, the Dude seems more and more out of place, until finally, the two people break out into laughter and the Dude is left watching the bizarre display. The Dude and Walter need something, anything, to keep them back in their own element. This is where bowling and white Russians come into the story. Whenever the Dude enters a foreign place, he immediately goes for the alcohol (2 ounces of vodka, 1 ounce of coffee liqueur, and some cream to be precise) to keep his cool. The same is true when Walter is with the Dude. In order to keep his sanity, Walter needs to be bowling. There are certain times of chaos when Walter leaves the bowling alley. This is seen in several places. First, Walter goes off in the coffee shop when the waitress tells him to keep his voice down. Second, when the two go to drop off the briefcase, Walter hijacks the plan and instead drops off a suitcase without the money. And the last example of a shift in reality happens when Walter and the Dude fight the nihilists. They cannot fight them in the bowling alley, because that is Walter and the Dude’s center of control. However, the moment they leave the alley, they meet the nihilists and all hell breaks lose.

So what does this have to do with Vietnam veterans? Walter’s coping with Vietnam comes through his bowling. When Walter is outside of the bowling alley, he continuously tells stories of how things were in Vietnam. Nevertheless, when Walter is in the bowling alley, all of that ceases to be as he becomes more calm and collective (“Smokey, this is not 'Nam. This is bowling. There are rules.”). The Dude, on the other hand, is completely lost in the 70s. He walks the Earth (never leaving his sandals) completely off the map. He is lost in his own world, and does not want to leave it for any circumstance. This can be seen as aftermath for a Vietnam veteran. The Dude is constantly stuck in a time frame where he cannot get out. His only wish is to surround himself with comfort (through white Russians and bowling) in order to ease his pain. However, by not adjusting to the times, his recovery process is slow and sluggish. This is why they search for white Russians and bowling. To get away from the American culture that brings back memories of Vietnam.

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