Last week, ‘Discuss This!’ took a road trip to Minnesota with the Coen brother’s Fargo, where it was revealed that someone had never seen The Big Lebowski. Putting shock and dismay aside, the Coen brothers eighth outing quickly became the next film up for discussion. So grab a White Russian, light some candles, slip into a bath (or bathrobe) and join Set the Tapes own staff writers Jenn Reid and Greg Mucci as they puff puff pass another Deakins/Coen collaboration. Fair warning: if you’re a fan of The Eagles, proceed with caution.
Greg: There are very few Bob Dylan songs I would use to open a film, but The Man in Me is definitely one of them!
Jenn: The music choices were all incredible!
G: The entire two sequences in cars involving music is two of my favorite moments in comedy! When he says he hates The Eagles and when he’s listening to CCR and he drops the roach.
J: I too hate the Eagles, so I really related to him on a spiritual level at that moment. And then the cab driver straight up throws him out, it’s incredible.
G: I too hate the eagles! Let’s just take a moment for that.
J: This movie was a lot funnier than I expected, for some reason. Like, I know it’s a comedy but I was still surprised by how much it made me laugh.
G: I feel like I connected with the films dramatic beats, and also its use of dream sequences. It’s very funny, don’t get me wrong, but I just really appreciate the film on an aesthetic level this time around. What were you expecting, going into this for the first time?
J: You know, I’m not entirely sure how to explain it, but I thought it was going to be one of those stylised films (which it is in many ways) where the humour is more ironic? Like the jokes would be that people are weird and we’re supposed to laugh at them. Not sure why because none of the Coen’s films are cold like that, but for some reason that’s what I pictured!
G: Yeah, the Dude never really encounters that rowdy group of teens who find him to be off his rocker or some scenario of botched acceptance. Everyone is kind of their own thing, through and through. It’s a really interesting little neo-noir town where bowling’s cool and women want the Dudes spunk.
J: Yeah, like all the characters are definitely weird in their own way, but that’s always beside the point. Julianne Moore has this affected accent and it’s totally bizarre, but the Dude just rolls with it, and there’s all these other twists and turns everyone just accepts. There’s no moment where they realise, “this is *crazy*!” or “what now???” it’s more like “oh okay, this totally bananas thing is happening.”
G: The only time anything is really scrutinised is when Walter hatches some potshot plan that keeps the Dude from his plan of action. This of course, is its own sort of hair-brained scheme since nothing really works out for the Dude. If it isn’t Walter screwing everything up, it’s the Nihilists. But I really appreciate the way this film handles weed. It’s never a Macguffin or a focal point really; it just aids the character like water. It’s there, it exists yet what we see from is its inner workings; the mindset behind it.
J: It made me think the Dude needed it for his anxiety. Like, when he wasn’t high he is constantly mad and stressed out at Walter and any scene where he is trying to get his feet under him again he’s lighting up. It’s not a crutch, it’s more like he just wants to equalize and get back to relaxing in the bathtub.
G: Oh totally! Especially with the rug being such a necessity; it speaks volumes about finding ground and being centred. You know, tying the room together. I really appreciate how it handles its characters, with this ability to show the dudes anxieties and Walters PTSD without really scrutinising it in a way, because even when Walter pulls a gun on a fellow bowler, they still accept him.
J: Yeah, the scene with Walter’s gun was very much “we know what this is/we’ve seen this before” and wasn’t focused on like “holy shit why do you have a gun!!” Both the Dude and Donnie understand him to an extent, and continually try to de-escalate the situation rather than his behavior. Like “please don’t be at a 10 right now, we only need a 5!” while at the same time knowing well that this is who Walter is.
G: Exactly! Deep down beneath the aggression and the jokes about nihilism is a pretty strong theme of acceptance. Even between Walter and Donnie, which for sure didn’t seem that way for most of the film, but as he lay there dying in his arms, it turned into this really emotional moment of tenderness from Walter.
J: Definitely. There’s another tender moment at the funeral where Walter and the Dude fight again, and then quickly make up. It’s these small moments that hint that Walter knows he’s being an asshole all the time, but genuinely loves his friends. The three of them have a real pure friendship.
G: I think this has to be my favourite John Goodman performance, ever. He’s fantastic in Matinee, but this is just something else entirely. The way he shifts seamlessly between rage and confusion is hilarious! When he’s trying to figure things out at the diner, I just can’t.
J: Ugh totally! He’s so great. I was going to point to the diner scene after the Dude leaves and he’s just like “I am just finishing my coffee! Just staying here, enjoying my coffee!” The physicality that goes with it too is just so funny, how he’s trying to play calm even though he was raging a second ago
G: Oh my god yes! Goodman just owns and exudes physicality in this! It’s really subtle in many ways, but it’s those tiny nuances that make it. Watching his face try to grapple with comprehending things that transpire between him and the Dude is unreal. Not to be hyperbolic, but it really is earth shattering. I stand by that statement.
J: It is so good! He sort of plays that gruff but likeable character a lot, and you could argue this is in that vein, but there’s *so* much going into the performance. It’s not one note, it’s not borrowing from (or inspiring) other work he does. It’s just a really great, fully formed character and performance.
G: Which is what I think the Coen’s do, no matter the story; they create these characters that stand apart from the plot, which are fully fleshed out before anything even remotely happens. I can’t think of a single Coen film where I wasn’t slightly enamoured with the way the characters are written.
J: Yes! Their films always feel like you’re watching a snippet of a fully realised world, like everyone had lives before and after the events of the movie
G: Even Carl and Gaear from Fargo, who could so easily have been one note hitmen, are realised as soon as we seem them in the bar. I think this is very clear in Jesus, who has maybe 3 minutes of screen time. Every little quirk or mannerism from him we believe, and that believability leads us to imagine this life he leads. It aids the world we’re invited into, because no matter what, the characters need to feel authentic for us to follow them.
J: Yeah, and as much as the movie rests on the dude’s shoulders, there are so many small characters and side parts that show up that need to be real to both him and us. It’s never “Here’s a random plot device character.”
G: Exactly! It’s why I’ll always gravitate to a Coen script because there will be so many things to latch onto. For them, a well-oiled plot just happens to be icing on the cake.
J: Totally! And it’s fascinating how they choose to inhabit so many different worlds and stay away from the more conventional choices. Like these guys could have been golfers or played in a baseball league, but they were like “what if everyone was super into bowling?”
G: Could you imagine that? I think the least interesting characters would come out of a baseball league. But then again, if anyone could fill that with oddball characters, it would be the Coen’s. But no way, this films sport of choice is so integral to the characters. These are people who skirt through their lives with the smallest movements possible. I don’t even think we see the Dude or Walter bowl…
J: Now I want to see a Coen’s baseball movie!
G: Shit, me too!
J: And now that you mention it, you’re right! Donnie bowls but the other two just hang out.
G: I feel like, for the Coen’s, bowling is so much more about the intimacy and the exchanges between the players. It’s never really about the movement of the ball (unless it’s a dream sequence). I will admit, this isn’t exactly high on my list. I really like it, but I don’t love it like a lot of people.
J: It definitely still has a cult following! There’s a theatre here that has an annual New Year’s Eve party where they play the movie and everyone dresses in bathrobes and drinks White Russians. As someone who never saw the movie before, I thought that was weird.
G: I saw this at the Byrd Theater – this restored movie house from 1928 in Richmond Virginia with a group of friends, and most of us were pretty stoned, and all I remember from that night was a lot of White Russians, and us driving there as we all sang the guitar solo from the Allman Brother’s Jessica. It was perfect, though I never did like White Russians.
J: Right? Milk based cocktails are not good for heavy drinking.
G: It’s just so much cream! I don’t know how constipation didn’t stop him from getting his rug back.
J: Those are the scenes we didn’t see. Director’s cut, maybe?