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"The Big Lebowski" and Critical Analysis

Page history last edited by Jeff 9 years, 9 months ago



The clip I picked was from one of the most memorable scenes from The Big Lebowski: the "Gutterballs" dream sequence. For this analysis, I will use both semiotic and feminist critical theory.


The dream sequence is highly symbolic and referential: almost everything seen is a reference to something earlier in the movie. The repairman's outfit that the Dude wears was also worn by Uli Kunkel, a.k.a. Karl Hungus, in the porno that Maude Lebowski showed the Dude in her studio. The man behind the counter is Saddam Hussein; the Stranger mentions at the very beginning of the movie that the story takes place during the first Gulf War. Bowling, the Dude's favorite pastime, is manifested several times, including the towering rack of bowling shoes (when Kenny Rogers & The First Edition play the line "I tripped on a cloud and fell eight miles high"), and Maude and the chorus girls' outfits. When the tone of the dream changes, we see a topless girl falling through a black frame; it is the same shot that opened the scene in which the Dude shows up at Jackie Treehorn's party. The three men in red are the three nihilists who kidnapped Bunny Lebowski, and the scissors they carry can be seen (on a red background) in a painting in Maude's studio.


The sequence is highly sexualized as well. There is a widely believed theory that The Big Lebowski's main motif is castration and the male fear of same; the three nihilists wielding gigantic scissors is one of the most cited examples. In addition, Maude is portrayed as an attractive Viking princess, complete with horned helmet. Though she tells the Dude earlier in the film that feminists are wrongly portrayed as hating sex, the dream sequence takes place inside the Dude's head, not hers, so she becomes a woman who needs a man to accomplish something (which proves important later in the movie, when Maude needs the Dude to impregnate her). He shows her how to throw the bowling bowl, as if she could not do it before he came along. The chorus girls are clad in bowling-themed outfits that reveal most of their bodies below the waist, and when the Dude helps Maude throw the ball, he becomes the ball and passes under the girls' spread legs as he travels down the bowling lane, sneaking a few peeks in the process.


In order to teach these approaches to students, I would first have them watch the necessary movie, clip, etc., paying special attention to a) allusions to other points in the movie, b) recurring symbols, images, words/phrases, etc., c) how women are portrayed, and d) the relationship between men and women in the scene in question, as well as the overall film. We would then discuss as a class the different interpretations that could be made.

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