The Big Lebowski
Where attitude and meaning collide
The Dude abides.
I finally know what that means—more importantly, I know that its meaning confirms my new approach towards Dramatica.
Peruse the decades of podcasts and videocasts from the Dramatica Users Group meetings, and you find a process of storyforming that lasts anywhere from two to three hours. Do the same with analyses in the Discuss Dramatica forums, and you discover hundreds and hundreds of posts debating a single film.
There is a more natural way.
Taking the Genre-al Approach
The Genre-al Approach (trademark pending) boxes in the thematic structure of a story in three easy steps—and it takes less than five minutes:
- Step 1. Determine the Personality of the story
- Step 2. Identify the most critical Element of its message
- Step 3. Profit
The last step is not a requirement.
By focusing attention on the two most essential parts of a narrative Premise, one avoids the endless rabbit holes of self-deception.
Finding the unique storyform of last month’s film for analysis, A Few Good Men, was easy given this approach. Step One: a Courtroom Drama. Step Two: a cut-rate lawyer. Sure, one must connect “cut-rate” with an Element of Reduction in Dramatica—but the payoff learning those 64 Elements is more than worth it. Imagine being able to quickly plot out the critical logistical and emotional Beats of A Few Good Men with just those two options.
Imagine that, and you see what it’s like to write with purpose.
Story Structure and the Earth Abides
I never was a fan of The Big Lebowski. I never saw it when it came out, and never really had the desire to experience the film. All I knew was that Jeff Bridges wore a slacker sweater, and for some reason, he wanted his rug back.
Familiar, too, with the Coen brother’s tendency toward tales over stories, I shrugged when The Big Lebowski took the February slot for the monthly Dramatica Users Group.
I was pleasantly surprised.
Seemingly pointless at first, the film expertly weaves an essential message into the fabric of its narrative. Soiling its spin on Raymond Chandler with f-bombs and nihilistic pornographers, The Big Lebowski teaches us that regardless of the meaninglessness of it all—the Earth abides.
While an expert in story, I was not familiar with “abiding.” I had to look it up in Google shortly after watching the film—which meant I went down the Wikipedia rabbit hole of Ecclesiastes, political activism, and the fact that they changed the car in production because John Goodman couldn’t fit in a Chrysler Baron.
It also meant I found a new Illustration for the problems of perpetuity.
It turns out, abiding is merely a Biblical interpretation of the Unending element:
The Unending characteristic sees nothing as ever coming to completion. What others may see as an end, this characteristic sees as a change of direction.
It sounds like abiding to me.
And the point of the entire film.
From Ecclesiastes 1:4:
One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the Earth abideth for ever.
Bring it all together, and it’s apparent that the Coen brothers were trying to say something meaningful when it comes to abiding conflict—especially with the literal translation of “another generation” in The Dude’s progeny.
From Premise to Structure
The magic of Subtext lies in its ability to convert a Premise into a workable structure. The meaning behind Hamlet encourages a narrative template vastly different from that of Kung Fu Panda. Personality is vital—a meaningful Element is essential (Step One, Step Two).
The Big Lebowski is Slacker Noir—a subset of Film Noir where the central character exhibits bad attitudes, rather than finding himself caught up in an untenable situation. Slacker Noir features an Objective Story Domain of Psychology and a Main Character Domain of Mind.
Everyone in this kind of story encounters conflict through manipulations, scheming, and posturing. The Dude himself conveys personal conflict through a fixed—and somewhat unshakable—attitude.
Step One complete. The Personality sets the Areas of Conflict for the various Throughlines.
Step Two asks for the Subjective Premise Element—what Dramatica theory refers to as the Crucial Element. This spot reflects the crossover point between the Objective Story Throughline, and the Main Character Throughline—the resonance between the objective and the subjective. In short, it signals the message of the story.
From there, one merely locks in the more communicative aspects of the message:
- Abiding is something to hold onto
- It’s a Self-actualizing kind of thing
- the experience is not harmonious
- Holding onto abiding is overwhelming at times
- the good vibrations will be more than worth it
Plug those into Subtext’s Premise Builder, and you get:
Abiding amplifies your higher state of vibration, allowing you to break through resistance, and open up the path towards thinking of better times with others.
Wordy, yes—but this Premise perfectly encapsulates the message behind The Big Lebowski. More importantly, for our purposes, it lights the way forward while writing stories with purpose.
Sam Elliot narrates the film, bookending the experience with thoughtful musings on The Dude and his story. If you take the sum of Sam’s dwellings and try to mash them together into one coherent and meaningful statement, you arrive at something not entirely unlike the Premise above.
Regardless of what happens, The Dude abides. Meaning abides. And the degree to which we remain faithful to thoughtful consideration determines how high we can get in the process.