From first glance, The Big Lebowski may seemed like a mindless comedy that was written for the sole purpose of entertainment, but if we look deeper into the film and try to analyze it as cultural critics we can see that The Big Lebowski is actually a movie that is a parody to the issues of the time. If we are active viewers when we watch this film, we can see numerous social issues being brought up and recognized during the course of the plot. The film’s writers (The Coen brothers) give us a bunch of topics to think about during The Big Lebowski. Military conflicts, the role of women, the role of government, and human rights are topics hidden within this movie. Our job as an active viewer is to be able to construct our own opinions about what these hidden meanings mean to figure out what the movie is truly about. Characters like The Dude, Maude, Walter, and The Big Lebowski all have aspects of their personalities that would be compared to a certain social issue. It is almost as if these main characters were meant to represent one of the social conflicts that the Coen brothers include in their film. It is ironic that we often see repeated references to major historical events at different parts of the picture, often by the same characters. The Big Lebowski is an extremely entertaining comedy on the outside, but it is also a deep film when we look on the inside. The Coen brothers wanted to incorporate current social issues in their movie and the best way to do it would be through their characters. Each character has their own personality and their own identity which they keep throughout the entire story. The Big Lebowski is truly not just a mindless comedy; it is actually a parody for social issues that happened at the time of its release.
One of the biggest social issues brought up in The Big Lebowski is America’s military conflicts overseas. We can see references to the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and the Korean War throughout the film. We can take the character Walter and see that he is a Vietnam veteran. What is interesting about Walter is that he is very aggressive and pushy, which ironically is how many people thought of America when we started fighting in Vietnam. Walter is also the stereotypical Vietnam veteran. He is always telling people that he is a veteran, almost using it as an excuse for the things he does. We can see in David Haglund’s essay about this film that he would concur “…Walter, a veteran who interprets everything through the lens of Vietnam.” (Haglund 1) The Coen brothers voice their opinion about the Vietnam War through Walter. We can tell that the Coen brothers do not think too fondly of the Vietnam War. We hear Walter say (during the bowling scene where Smokey crosses the foul line) “Smokey, this is not ‘Nam. This is bowling. There are rules.” We also see numerous references to the Gulf War. In the first scene we hear a speech from President Bush Sr. talking about the invasion of Kuwait where he states, “This aggression will not stand.” Also throughout the movie we see a person that resembles Saddam Hussein, in very comic situations. The Coen brothers put Saddam in these comic situations to show how they believe that the Gulf War was a silly war that did not need to be fought. Many Americans still believe that the Gulf War was fought for the sake of oil, not for the value of human life. Lastly, we see a reference to the Korean War. We do not see many Korean War references but we do find out that The Big Lebowski’s legs were hurt in the Korean War. This is very important information to know because The Big Lebowski is viewed as the person that controls everything, a communist figure. What is ironic is that he had his legs hurt in a war in which we fought to end communism. It is not an accident that some of the main characters have certain traits of their personality that pairs up with a certain war or military conflict. The Coen brothers purposely made the character’s perfect stereotypes to the wars they represent.The role of women in society is also topic that is touched upon in the movie. When we think of women in society, we think of women from the 1950s. These are the “stay-at-home moms” and house-wives. The role of women in the 1950s would be to care for the children and to take care of the home while the husband would work and “bring home the bacon.” This is what we would consider the traditional family; a husband, wife, two kids, and a dog. This is the way that society viewed a family for many years. The Big Lebowski gives us a totally different perspective on those traditional beliefs. The Coen brothers expose us to the idea that women can have a family and be independent at the same time. We see this best in Maude. We know Maude to be a single woman, and a feminist. She is the perfect stereotype for a feminist; she is very independent and she feels that she does not need a male figure in her life. She also takes responsibility for everything she does, as stated in Jon Bastian’s essay, “On the other hand, Maude takes responsibility for everyone and everything. Her actions are not motivated by greed or lust.” (Bastian 1) What is ironic about this is during the film; Maude uses The Dude for sex in an attempt to conceive a baby. She tells The Dude that she wants to have a child but raise it without a father. She explains how she would be able to raise a child better alone than if she had a partner. The Coen brothers gave Maude this personality to show the modern role of women in society. The role of women in modern times is much different than what their roles were in 1950. Today, women are not expected to be house-wives or “stay-at-home” mothers; women are expected to be more independent. Maude is truly an independent person; she works for herself and has her own income. This would not be the case in the 1950s. Maude represents the modern women in every way, shape, and form.
One of the more main topics we see in this film is human rights. The entire movie’s plot revolves around human rights and people taking away those rights. A great example of this involves The Dude. The whole reason The Dude goes on this journey throughout the film is because his house got broken into, and his rug got urinated on. The Dude was just living his life, minding his own business when The Big Lebowski came up with his plan to steal money and involved The Dude in it. The Dude has a right to live without having to worry about people breaking in his house and urinating on his rug. It is a reoccurring theme throughout the movie that The Dude gets some of his human rights taken away. Another prime example of where The Dude is being pushed around is in Malibu when he was roughed up by the sheriff. In this case, The Dude was actually drugged at a party that he was invited to. The sheriff’s told The Dude to leave Malibu because he was a “nobody.” He did not have a lot of money like most people in the city so the corrupt sheriff treated him like a criminal and took away his rights. Whenever The Dude is being pushed around, it is always by a person or a group of people that are have a higher social status. These are the people that we would consider powerful. Whenever we see The Dude being pushed around it is always by someone that is more powerful than him; usually someone with more money. We see this in our society all the time. The Coen brothers are trying to show how in society if you do not have money and/or power, you basically have less rights than the people that have the money and power.
One of the most debated socials issues that is involved in this film is the role of government in today’s society. In The Big Lebowski we see a very limited role of government throughout the California society; this is best shown in lack of law enforcement. Throughout the entire film we see police officers but they are not actually enforcing the law, they are acting as corrupt cops that seem to be working for the people with the most money. We also see zero law throughout the scandal The Big Lebowski created. Even though we do not see a heavy role of government at the local level; during the film, we see many government figures and references when the subject of war is brought up. We see President Bush Sr. speak about the Gulf War on the television at the beginning of the movie and hear war references from many of the characters. What we are missing is the local government. We do not see any local government officials in this film at all. By the lack of government in this film we can see the Coen brothers think the government is too involved in large conflicts mostly overseas. Their opinions are shown by abundance of military references found everywhere in the film. We can see how the Coen brothers’ opinion about the role of government in society affects the storyline of this film.
The Big Lebowski is full of hidden social messages, but it takes a critical viewer to be able to formulate their own opinions on what these messages mean. The Coen brothers do a great job in hiding their opinions within a mindless comedy. The characters in this film all have personality traits that are very similar which certain conflicts in society, and every character is different. The Dude is shown as the “little guy”, the person without a ton of social power. He tends to get pushed around a lot because of his social status. Maude is a feminist stereotype, full of independence. She is representation of the modern woman which explains her role as a woman in the 20th-21st century. The Coen brothers also give political ideals to characters as show in The Big Lebowski and Walter. We would consider The Big Lebowski as the face of communism. He is also longing to be in control of whatever he is involved in, similar to the communist countries of our era. Lastly, we see Walter and the stereotypical Vietnam War veteran, but we also see traits of his personality (aggressiveness, misunderstanding, and bold) that we could argue makes him a direct representation of the Vietnam War. There is no denying the fact that the Coen brothers incorporate their opinions about social issues and social conflicts in their film The Big Lebowski. When we analyze this film, he can see that it is much denser than what we can see on the surface. The density in this film makes The Big Lebowski not just a mindless comedy, but a well written parody.