Friday, September 5, 2008

Our Hero: The Big Lebowski?

There is a quote from the movie THE BIG LEBOWSKI that has bugged me since the first time I've seen it, funny as I find the movie overall:

(The Stranger:) "Now this story I’m about to unfold took place back in the early nineties—just about the time of our conflict with Sad’m and the Eye-rackies. I only mention it ’cause sometimes there’s a man—I won’t say a hero, ’cause what’s a hero? But sometimes there’s a man. And I’m talkin’ about the Dude here—sometimes there’s a man who, wal, he’s the man for his time and place, he fits right in there—and that’s the Dude, in Los Angeles."

I've argued about this line elsewhere, and I still don't know what to make of it..."I won't say a hero, 'cause what's a hero?" It sounds very...postmodern? Nihilistic? Cynical? But then, just like Dick Meyer, with his quote about heroes being for children in WHY WE HATE US, the Stranger goes on to make a case for heroes anyway. I don't understand this skipping around these writers and commentators even know what the word "hero" means? Why are they so afraid to use it?

My uncertainty about my feelings about this quote come from the speaker and the context: I really need to sit down and see how it's integrated into the overall film. It may be that the Stranger (played by perennial cowboy Sam Elliot) does not represent the true theme, that his uncertainty, his head-bobbling, if you will, over the word is that character's alone, not the filmmakers, or the story's. Maybe my uncertainty is a reflection of the Stranger's uncertainty. The Stranger himself is a nod to the cowboy the movie itself a commentary on the fear of heroes and heroism?

At any rate, whatever the verdict, it's another good indication that there is a need for a dialogue about these things without resorting to cynicism.