Jewish Journal


September 11, 2008

The politics of ‘Big Lebowski’: Walter Sobchak the neocon



“The Big Lebowski” is one of my favorite movies. My friends and I used the language of the dude, though not Walter, during college, when we bowled weekly at the late Hollywood Star Lanes. And when I can’t sleep at night, I often opt for watching the Dude one more time.

The story is so rich with characters—I particularly like Donny and The Jesus. The nihilists also are hilarious. (Click here to read about a real nihilist running for California governor.) But no persona is larger than that of Walter Sobchak, defender of the faith—“Three thousand years of beautiful tradition, from Moses to Sandy Koufax—YOU’RE ... RIGHT I LIVE IN THE PAST!”—and, believe it or not, neoconservative.

So sayeth David Haglund:

If that seems like a stretch, consider the traits Walter exhibits over the course of the film: faith in American military might (the Gulf War, he says, “is gonna be a piece of cake”; in the original script, he calls it “a f—-ing cakewalk”); nostalgia for the Cold War (“Charlie,” he says, referring to the Viet Cong, was a “worthy f—-in’ adversary”); strong support for the state of Israel (to judge from his reverent paraphrase of Theodor Herzl: “If you will it, Dude, it is no dream”); and even, perhaps, past affiliation with the left (he refers knowingly to Lenin’s given name and admits to having “dabbled in pacifism”). Goodman, who has called the role his all-time favorite, seems also to have sensed Walter’s imperialist side. “Dude has a rather, let’s say, Eastern approach to bowling,” he said in an interview. “Walter is strictly Manifest Destiny.”

The Coen brothers present this bellicose figure “in the early ‘90s” (as an opening voice-over provided by a mysterious cowboy informs us) “just about the time of our conflict with Sad’m and the Eye-rackies.” After the cowboy has spoken, the first words we hear come from the elder President Bush: “This aggression will not stand,” he declares, responding to the invasion of Kuwait and appearing on a grocery store television while the Dude buys some half-and-half. Bush’s threat of force frames all that follows. When Walter hears about the “carpet-pissers,” he insists that the Dude draw “a line in the sand”

Sad to say, there are no clean clips from “The Big Lebowski.” I offer that as a disclaimer for the 30-second video of The Jesus after the jump. (In related Coen Brothers news: “Burn After Reading” opens tomorrow night and I can’t wait. Watch the trailer.)

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