straight down the line

The Big Lebowski: Noir?

The Coen’s the” Big Lebowski” has long been one of my very favorite comedies, transcending genres and tones to stand as an entirely singular sort of film. Somewhere along the line I’ve heard it referred to as “slacker noir,” but I’d really never held the film in the same class as traditional noir, such as the other films on the list for this week. “Double Indemnity” in particular is a hallmark of the shadowy visual style of the genre. Considering further though, particularly in terms of plot, the Big Lebowski mimics many of the qualities of Wilder’s film, complete with femme fatales, conspiracies, and overall shadowy dealings. The Coens, however, have so much fun lampooning all of these qualities that I’ve never seriously analyzed it as a true work of noir. The kidnapping (or fake kidnapping) plot is hilariously absurd and over-the-top, having fun with the traditionally sketchy, shadowy dealings of films like Double Indemnity’s murder plot. In fact, the Coens have gone on record saying that the film’s plot is intentionally “hopelessly complex and ultimately unimportant.” Thus they are having fun with the genre’s notoriously mysterious, conspiratorial nature.

Where Lebowski is an entirely different beast is in the framing of its outrageous world, where nihilists roam free and severed ¬†toes can be easily obtained by mid-afternoon. The colorful, zany LA presented by the Coens, politically punctuated by President Bush’s declaration that “We will not stand against this aggression in Kuwait,” reminds me a bit of Chinatown for some reason, even if I can’t put my finger on it. Perhaps the subtle political backdrop to both films naturally aligns them in my head. In fact, a 90s slacker version of Chinatown doesn’t sound too far off from Lebowski. The disparate time periods obviously do lead to different political preoccupations, and the Coens are all over the place with Lebowski. From romantic Vietnam Vet Walter Sobcheck quoting Theodor Herzel, “If you will it, dude, it is no dream,” to constant references to the Gulf War, the Coens are able to use their intentionally confounding plot as a lampooning vehicle for social/politcal commentary.

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