Monday, February 18, 2008

The Philosophy of the Absurd in The Big Lebowski

This article asserts that The Big Lebowski is in fact a modern adaptation of Albert Camus' The Stranger and an illustration of the philosophy of Absurdism, which one might consider type of nihilism-a reference which is frequently alluded to within the film itself.

The Dude equates to an American version of The Stranger's Meursaults in the sense that he lives without responsibility, contemplation, or regret. The Dude individual who consistently denies the possibility of meaning or truth to existence; the entire world may be reduced to opinion and perception for Jeffrey Lebowski. As should already be apparent by now, nothing in the movie is particularly meaningful in and of itself (though his friends may assert otherwise). The Dude is merely acted upon and made to react.

The act of bowling is an adapted symbol which I will take to be representative of the Myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus tragic Greek hero who is damned to endlessly toil by repeatedly pushing a rock up a hill (and when it reaches the top, it rolls back down and he must start all over again). Sisyphus figures heavily in Camus' portrayal of the Absurd Man. As the bowling ball is to the dude, thus is the epistemic rock to Sisyphus. This ceaseless labor is a metaphor for the absurd repetition and meaninglessness of everyday life. (On a side note: I would argue that the metaphor is more precisely portrayed in The Big Lebowski, for it also confides a sense of mortality-the bowling ball will not simply roll forever as the rock of Sispyhus would, it reaches the end of its lane eventually and invites the epistemic possibility of death). Like Sisyphus, the Dude becomes a tragic hero the moment he becomes conscious of the absolute absurdity of his existence (This occurs for Mersault and The Dude with the impending realization of his own deaths). The Absurd Man realizes that he cannot hope for meaning, true knowledge, the future, or at all; Camus argues would find solace in the garunteed futility of his actions.

Realization of this nihilism grants a kind of freedom, however, as made evident in the comparison between both Jeffrey Lebowskis in the film. One is a nihilist and the other a vain megalomaniac who has dedicated his life to the pursuit of meaning, power, and wealth. Without these illusions he is but a restricted version of The Absurd Man, and therefore he is portrayed as paralyzed from the waist down, unable to move or act without the help of scientific knowledge and sound reason. The Dude, by comparison, needs no degree of hope and therefore exists more freely than his futile antithesis, so long as he accepts the responsibility for his lifestyle instead of existing in a state of perpetual ignorance.

The world is a place devoid of meaning save the meanings which would be imposed upon it by humanity, and in this sense The Dude's paranoid, raving, and indifferent friends who attribute any random series of larger meanings and possibilities upon a single event contrast to The Absurd Man in The Dude.


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Unknown said...

Your article has helped me immensely with my research paper. Thank You

Pilgrim Chpt. 33 said...

cool article... The Dude Abides.