‘The Big Lebowski’ and Abiding the Gulf War

This aggression will not stand, man.

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This aggression will not stand, man.

The Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski is many things: a stoner slice-of-life, a slapstick comedy, an off-kilter modern noir, a tale of friendship, of individuality, of outsider culture (on a few fronts), and a commentary on class division in 90s-era metropolitan US culture. But above all else – while simultaneously also most subtly – the film is about the First Gulf War, that minor skirmish with major ramifications that briefly interrupted the otherwise peaceful and prosperous tranquility of the decade.

Think about it: the Stranger, in his opening narration, establishes as much by linking the events of the film to their era – “…just about the time of our conflict with Saddam and the Iraqis.” Later in the film we see then-President George H.W. Bush making his famous “this aggression cannot stand” speech, which The Dude then borrows from in conversation with the Other Lebowski. Point is, the Gulf War isn’t just a temporal, cultural background to The Big Lebowski, it is an undercurrent that effects every character in a variety of ways, from The Dude’s defiance to invaders, to the Other Lebowski and his daughter Maude’s sense of entitlement, Walter’s blatant militarism, and Donnie’s ignorant passivity.

Don’t believe me? Then you have to check out this outstanding video from Bradley Weatherholt for Ministry of Cinema that does a deep dive into the political subtlety of The Big Lebowski, along the way exploring the Coens’ particular use of double meaning, plot structure, and inappropriate humor.

This is a brand new way of looking at a film many of us have considered classic since it’s release. You need to get eyes on it toot suite.

 

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist