The Dude, as depicted in the Big Lebowski. 36x24 inches, Oil on Canvas.
'The Dude is a single, unemployed, forty-something year old man. He dresses shabbily often in loose fitting clothing and always wearing sandals—resembling a slightly over-weight Jesus Christ. He was an active participant of the hippie generation. He comments that he was a member Seattle Seven (a radical anti-war group) and that he helped draft the Port Huron Statement (Coen & Coen, 1998). With this information it is fair to assume that in his younger years the Dude was radical, activist speaking out against the Vietnam War. One can also assume that he took a college-deferment option during that time as the Dude does refer to attending college. The Dude says, 'yeah I did [attend college], but I spent most of my time occupying various, um, administration buildings-smoking thai-stick, breaking into the ROTC-and bowling. I'll tell you the truth, Brandt, I don't remember most of it' (Coen & Coen, 1998). These words are very insightful towards the Dude's character and in many ways his personality has not changed in the past 20 years.
Additional background knowledge is sparse all that one really knows is that he was a roadie for Metallica at some point in the 80's (Coen & Coen, 1998). Besides that the Dude would appear to have two passions or addictions (depending on one's point of view): bowling and smoking marijuana.
It is fair to say the Dude lives very much in the present moment (his conscious mind). There are two aspects of his personality that encourage this, one is his laid back philosophy towards life and two is his chronic smoking of marijuana. The Dude has limited access or use for his preconscious or available memory (Boeree, 2009). The dude routinely has troubles retrieving memories and maintaining his train of thought. He credits his short term memory to 'adhering to a strict drug regiment' in order to not 'become uptight in thinking' (Coen & Coen, 1998).
The dude operates primarily within the structures of the id and the ego. His desires are to bowl, to get high and to have his rug replaced. Each one of these id wants are derived from his pleasure principle: bowling relieves his boredom, getting high allows him to avoid unpleasant realities, and getting a new rug creates order in his home because as the Dude says, 'that rug really tied the room together' (Friedman and Schustack, 2009, Coen & Coen, 1998).
The reality principle takes form when the Dude needs to reconcile is id desires with the real world ego implications. The Dude unabashedly seeks reality principle satisfaction. After his rug is soiled he does not hesitate to seek the Big Lebowski and demand compensation for his rug. The Dude is not put off by superego concerns such as class or wealth. He feels completely entitled as he saunters into the mansion based on conscious needs and principles. He is genuinely surprised when the other Lebowski refuses to replace the rug. The Dude says, 'Come on, man, I am not trying to scam any one here' (Coen & Coen, 1998). In the Dude's world his sound argument should be enough as he has little regard with superego societal concerns.
After he is berated, accused of 'looking for a handout', and called a 'loser' and a 'bum' he leaves the meeting with the Big Lebowski and lies to the assistant saying, 'the old man said take any rug in the house' (Coen & Coen, 1998). The Dude is not swayed by societal rules or norms. He is a complete non-conformist with a disregard for status and authority.
Psychosexually the Dude appears fixated in the oral stage (Boeree, 2009). As Boeree asserts people with oral fixations, 'often retain an interest in 'oral gratifications' such as eating, drinking, and smoking' (2009). The dude is over-weight and is rarely seen in the film without a drink (White Russian or Miller) or joint in his mouth. There is no information offered as to his upbringing or how his relationship with his mother factors in to this fixation. Friedman and Schustack (2009) suggest that the oral stage is place of security and pleasure were an individual must mature from in order to progress to the next stage. They write that individuals fixated at the oral stage may, 'remain preoccupied with issues of dependency, attachment, and 'intake' of interesting substances and perhaps even interesting ideas' (2009, p. 78). While the film does not offer any information in regards to the Dude's personality development in childhood there are two dream sequences which offer significant insight to his subconscious thoughts.
In the first dream sequence the Dude is flying over Los Angeles. This is an enjoyable experience for him. In the distance Maude Lebowski (daughter of the Big Lebowski) is flying away on the Dude's recently stolen carpet. The Dude pursues by doing a breast-stroke manoeuvre while flying. As the Dude is gaining he soon discovers a bowling ball in his outstretch hand. The bowling ball causes him to plummet towards the ground. Next he is miniature version of himself and a bowling ball is rolling towards him. The Dude is rolled within the finger-holes of the bowling ball and rolled down the lane into a set of awaiting pins (Coen & Coen, 1998).
There are many psychoanalytic symbolic meanings within this dream. According to Freud flying in dreams symbolises sexual excitement (Perron, 2008). This theory would hold true as the Dude does seem happy at this point in the dream and he does eventually have sex with Maude Lebowski. The recurring images of the bowling ball are symbolically interpreted by Joel Harker (2008):
The act of bowling is an adapted symbol which I will take to be representative of the Myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus tragic Greek hero who is damned to endlessly toil by repeatedly pushing a rock up a hill (and when it reaches the top, it rolls back down and he must start all over again)…as the bowling ball is to the dude, thus is the epistemic rock to Sisyphus. This ceaseless labor is a metaphor for the absurd repetition and meaninglessness of everyday life.
Bowling as a symbol of the epistemic rock of Sispyhus fits well with what may be the subconscious (superego) thoughts of the Dude. The Dude's life is repetitive and meaningless, especially when viewed by an upper-class individual like Maude Lebowski. The Dude may be able to subconsciously fantasize about having her but despite his conscious refusal of authority and class structure, his superego understands these realities place her beyond his grasp. In the dream the Dude is hurtled back to earth by the weight of the bowling ball. Bowling is representative of his endless toil—his repetitive, unemployed, lower class lot in life.
The second dream sequence starts with Dude represented as a strong male. He is a television repair man with magical golden bowling shoes (the repair man being alluded to earlier in the film a sex symbol). He walks down a large staircase to meet with Maude Lebowski. She is symbolised as a female Neptune; wearing a golden helmet with horns, holding a golden trident and wearing a dress with two golden bowling balls covering her breasts. The Dude again appears with a bowling ball, this time it is bright red. He holds it with strength and pride teaching Maude how to bowl. He then finds himself floating down the bowling lane between the legs of many women. Once he reaches the end of the lane he finds he is being chased by three German Nihilists in red spandex suits carrying enormous pairs of scissors (Coen & Coen, 1998).
Similar to the first dream this dream taps into the subconscious sexual desires the Dude has for Maude Lebowski. He travels down a tall staircase, also symbolic to Freud as sexual excitement (Perron, 2008). Through his having control of the red bowling ball he metaphorically represents Mars, the god of war and the symbol of man (universetoday, 2008). Maude is symbol of strength represented by Neptune—god of the sea. The Dude must calmly negotiate the waters of Neptune to achieve his goals (Maude has hired him to find out what happened to one million dollars in ransom money, offering him ten percent if he locates the money). In the end the Dude succeeds in calming Maude. Although Maude has alterior motives for having sex with the Dude (in order to conceive a child), it is in this scene that she provides the missing clue that allows the Dude to locate the missing money.
The sexual symbolism is once again ended by reality stresses in the Dude's life. The image of the nihilists with scissors is obviously a sign of castration anxiety. There are many instances where the Dude is consciously threatened with castration throughout the film. As Walter Kirn (2008) of the Rolling Stone writes:
This phallic triumphalism spooks the Dude. Fears of castration assault his porous psyche like armies of chattering, wind-up, joke-shop teeth. A hungry ferret is tossed into his bubble bath. A fumbled joint nearly incinerates his pants. Mimes with gigantic scissors invade his dreams. In the meantime, Lebowski's performance-artist daughter, Maude, is plotting to discard him like a turkey baster once she's managed to water her parched womb with his precious bodily fluids. And then, of course, there are all the toppling bowling pins, scourging the Dude's subconscious with every strike.
Kirn displays the many factors that contribute to the Dude's fear of castration and ultimate fear of death. Subconsciously the dream is telling the Dude that his pleasure principle and reality principle have collided. He can only fantasize so long before his id and ego are overruled by his superego. Through various conscious and subconscious signs he is being warned that he will be castrated before he has attained his unconscious desire—Maude Lebowski. Moreover, both dream sequences end with Dude being taken beyond his control to the end of the bowling lane. In the first dream travels to the end of the lane alone, in the second connects with Maude but still finds himself floating away into the dark void.
The Dude uses various coping mechanisms to aid his assaulted ego. As the dream sequences indicate the Dude is in a complex relationship with Maude Lebowski. He is in denial over his attraction to Maude because she is a very threatening female. She is a feminist artist and a very opinionated driven individual. She is powerful and sexual. The first two encounters with Maude take place at her studio where the Dude is surrounded by images of female strength and paintings of giant scissors(Coen & Coen, 1998). Jean Cournut writes of how castration anxiety can be caused through contact with women. He explains how Freud's book, 'The Taboo of Virginity', 'deals explicitly with the castration anxiety precipitated in men by contact with women, universally recognized as a danger to male sexuality, that is to say, as always potentially castrating' (2008). It could be argued that the Dude is sublimating such dangerous sexual desires by engaging in uncharacteristically risky behaviour in order to solve the case of the missing wife and the missing ransom money (Friedman and Schustack, 2009).
Finally, the Dude clearly uses rationalization to support his lifestyle (Friedman and Schustack, 2009). Consciously the Dude can justify being an unemployed, hippie-stoner but unconsciously a psychoanalyst would posit that the Dude is perhaps repressing issues relating to his mother or father.'
ANALYSIS PROVIDED BY: James Kerr, BEd
Faculty of Behavioural Sciences,
For the Article: A Psychological analysis of personality: The Dude in The Big Lebowski.