Part two in a three-part series viewing capitalism through the prism of the Big Lebowski’s wayward characters.
In Part 1, we explored the individualist, egoist and anarchist strains in the Dude, arriving at the conclusion that he symbolizes the person who has largely checked out of capitalist society, maintaining instead various friendly and leisurely associations, and simply abiding instead of dominating.
Mr. Jeffrey Lebowski, however, is Dude’s dark doppelganger, his anti-self—what he might have been had he never been part of the Seattle 7 and written the undiluted Port Huron Statement. Blustery, browbeating and bloviating, Mr. Lebowski is the dark nexus of American capitalism: a creator of nothing who has gotten by not on talent but on upper-class charity. He projects his own “bum” status onto the Dude and the sadness that he feels with Bunny’s disappearance is a reflection of his own endless fathoms of emptiness. And like a true capitalist, he asks Dude to do his dirty work while he sits at home warming beside the hearth.
Dude finds meaning within himself, his friends and his rug, while Mr. Lebowski is so devoid of meaning that he is one of the movie’s true nihilists.
We now examine Walter, Brandt, Jesus and Donny.
Walter: Tea-Party Prototype?
Walter is perhaps the greatest cypher in “The Big Lebowski” other than Donny, who is afforded observer status. Walter displays an entire range of learning and philosophy, most of it put to bad use.
If, however, Walter is to be distilled into a politico-economic form, it would have to be that of the Libertarian. If he were real, he might be a Tea Partier, but he also seems to have an understanding and love of civil liberties, which would place him more in the tradition of an ACLU activist, as when he chastises the diner waitress by saying, “the Supreme Court has roundly rejected prior restraint.”
Clearly, Walter Sobchak is a man with no special love for government or others infringing on his life, liberty and property. And while this would seem to ally him closely with the Dude (which might explain their friendship), Walter harbors a strange fascination and almost nostalgic fervor for warfare, evidenced in his arms collection (Pistol, Uzi) and his relentless Vietnam references.
Walter is a natural defender, however, and though he probably wouldn’t admit it, he was used by the American government as an instrument in the spread of global capitalism whilst in Vietnam. If Walter were to drop his militarism, he would find that he shares much with the Dude’s individualist “ethos,” to borrow Walter’s turn of phrase.
And while Walter often symbolizes aggressive action, he understands it has limits when he says, “We’re talking about unchecked aggression here.” From whom does the aggression emanate? At that point in the film, Walter believes it is Jeffrey Lebowski, but it turns out to be an entire class of wealthy and powerful players, whom Walter eventually refers to as “these rich fucks.”
And when we consider the 2008 crash from Wall Street’s bailout following the credit-default swaps bets, what better Walter quote is there than, “There’s no reason—there’s no fucking reason why his wife should go out and owe money all over town and then they come and they pee on your fucking rug, am I wrong?”
Brandt as the Republican Sycophant and Closeted Homosexual
Acknowledging the danger of exploring homosexual stereotypes, one has to have considered the possibility that Brandt is a homosexual.
Brandt has a single name, as far as we know, much like Cher or Madonna. It is almost typical of the high society homosexual, who adopts a singular name and acts as the gatekeeper to his benefactor. (Brandt also probably acts as the gatekeeper to Mr. Lebowski’s asshole, but that’s another question entirely.)
Brandt is neat to the point of anal retentive, and he displays typically Queenish behavior: he is snarky, fascist, bossy and probably harbors some deep-seated self-hatred of his homosexuality. This marks him as the perfect sycophant of Republicanism and Capitalism. His sexual identity is hidden behind order (fascism) and money, the twin pillars of Capitalism.
And like a typical sycophant and disciple of money (and Young Republican), he has attached himself—like a remora—to a larger fish to travel in its slipstream. To him and, indeed, to Mr. Lebowski, the photograph of the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers is not to be touched lest it ruin the pristine moment in which capitalist trickle-down economics is made manifest—proof that it works.
And like the true capitalist Brandt seeks to imitate (Mr. Lebowski, who himself is but an imitator), he creates nothing and guards that nothingness with a fervor unique to the religious. Which brings us to Jesus.
Jesus as the Religious Symbol
It would be too easy to compare Jesus to the Catholic Church. Though it is not said, Jesus clearly is a Latino (possibly Cuban?), which would make him Roman Catholic. Jesus, however, must stand for the whole of religion in this analysis (though Walter is a stand-in for Judaism, he is not expressly religious).
It is also too easy to draw parallels between Jesus’ Roman Catholicism and his pedophiliac tendencies. But, we will, however briefly, have to speak on Jesus’ sexual proclivities. That he enjoys diddling children is merely a function of him preparing the youth for the wholesale rape they will receive at the hands of the American and, indeed, global economy as they age. Similarly, his nominal religiosity symbolizes religion’s complicity in capitalism’s most egregious sins. Religion is the playground of American and global capitalism, where minds are shaped to respect authority and to make money that can then be rendered unto Caesar (that which is Caesar’s). There will always be an elite, accept it.
We might also compare Jesus to fascism through his various pronouncements against Walter, Donny and the Dude: the long arm of the State, in this case, being Jesus’ hand with gun extended through the anal cavity, inserted into the individual’s rectum in a pornographic display of fisting. Again, the homoeroticism is hard to ignore, and twins him—by extension (no pun intended)—with the capitalist baron Mr. Lebowski and his errand boy Brandt, both probably closeted homosexuals.
Curious as well is Jesus’ dress. Do not be distracted by the form-fitting pants and shirt, for he wears the purple of the Roman Tarquins—the royal purple of Kings. The color of wealth and money (and in some Asian countries the color of Death). For monarchies and their attendant nobility did not simply disappear, but transmogrify into first regional, then global capitalist elite.
Donny the Corpus Callosum
In many ways, Donny is the audience stand-in. The confusion of the first-time Lebowski viewer is mirrored in his gaze, open mouth and occasional questioning. When Walter tells Donny to “shut the fuck up” it is as if we the viewers are being told to “shut the fuck up and watch the movie.”
However, it might be better to imagine Donny as the connective tissue existing between the Dude and Walter: the lack of awareness between the two characters, and their inability to comprehend one another in a system that perpetuates itself through creating a mass hallucination. The Dude being the anarcho-individualist and Walter the Libertarian, and Donny the failure to recognize their innate similarities though divergent paths.
If Donny does not function as this lack of awareness, then he is but the audience stand-in, because he quite clearly is neither a disciple of the Dude nor of Walter.
Interesting as well is Donny’s quote of the Beatles’ song “I am the Walrus,” confusing Dude’s paraphrasing of Lenin (Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov) for Lennon (John Winston). A more playful and meaningful parallel of Donny’s interjection can be found if Lennon’s appropriation of Lewis Carroll’s “Walrus & the Carpenter” poem is followed. Is it at all strange that Donny’s non-sequitur mumble of “I am the Walrus” is in response to a Lenin quote? The Walrus, as we all know, can be seen as a symbol of the gluttonous industrialist or captain of industry, while the carpenter blindly follows.
And his death? Well, the terror of the story’s economic parable was perhaps too much for his heart to bear, though his untimely end does bring the Dude and Walter together in an understanding embrace—again, the alchemical activation of the corpus callosum where the left hemisphere communicates with the right hemisphere. His death symbolizes the absurdity of all that had come to pass in the narrative, but also of life, in general.
That in spite of our economic pretensions, life isn’t a matter of economy, but of a heart’s ability to pump blood through its chambers and capillaries. That we are born and die human—nothing more.
That the true beauty of death is that it annihilates the notion of economy along with the self.