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Recently, Jeff Bridge published a book called “The Dude and the Zen Master.”  As I understand it, it’s conversations he had with Roshi Bernie Glassman about the ways “The Big Lebowski” movie espouses spiritual principles.

I haven’t read the book, but I’ve always held a notion that the character Jeff Bridges plays in the movie, that  of The Dude (a.k.a Jeff Lebowski)  is very Zen.  I haven’t given a lot of thought to the possibilities in the rest of the film. However,  I think Mr. Bridges said something about the character of Donny. I could see  Donny being a bit like Monkey Mind as he chattered on and asked meaningless questions. The Dude’s best friend, and bowling partner, Walter, was always saying, “Shut up, Donny.”  But I’m merely grasping at straws.

What I do know is The Dude.  As the movie begins, the Dude is in a grocery store.  It’s late and there aren’t a lot of people around.  He is dressed in his usual outfit of tan Bermuda shorts, a tee shirt and sandals.  He lives in LA, so he doesn’t need much else.  But he is in the grocery store in his bathrobe on top of the uniform.  Seems the Dude needed some cream for his favorite drink, the White Russian.  He was probably wearing his robe at home and just went out the way he was.

The Dude lives a simple life.  All he really needs is the fixings for his drink and a joint now and then.  He uses his sense of smell to make sure the cream hasn’t soured.  His apartment is sparsely furnished, except for the rug which “ties the room together.”

The quest of the movie is to replace the carpet the nihilists, actually looking for another Lebowski, ruined after peeing on it.  Prior to the urinating, two men had pushed the Dude’s head into a toilet, asking him where the money was.  He didn’t know and told them so.  When they persisted in the question, the Dude suggested that maybe it is down the toilet and he should take another look.

The truth is, the Dude doesn’t have much money.  But he has the money he needs.  Some things are more important.  His landlord came to the door one day asking for the rent, which the Dude didn’t have. The landlord brushed it off, but asked that the Dude come to the Landlord’s scheduled performance and give him notes.  Such the Dude is revered by others.

The Dude knows right from wrong.  He doesn’t like to hurt people and wants very much to help “that poor woman,” who is the object of much of the plot.  After being drugged by Jackie Treehorn, the man to whom money was owed, the Dude ended up at the police station and explained to the sheriff that “Jackie Treehorn treats objects like women!”  The Dude doesn’t approve.

He doesn’t usually get upset. “The Dude Abides,” they say.  When he does get upset, as the comings and goings of the plot evolve, Walter points out that he is being very “un Dude.”  By nature, the Dude is easy going, taking it light.

The Dude enjoys bowling with his friends, taking baths by candlelight and was the  author of the original Port Heron Statement – not the second version which compromised too much.

He is patient and lives in the moment.  He is willing to listen to others, even the “Big Lebowski” who offered him a proposal.  The Dude is tolerant of his kooky friends, even Donny, to a certain extent.  And he is quite comfortable saying the word “vagina.”  The Dude did not forget his promise to show up at the Landlord’s performance.

Plenty of White Russians, some pot now and again, and enough bowling, the Dude is a Happy Man.  Oh yeah, if he has the right rug to pull the room together, the Dude Abides.

The thing that struck me the most about the story was that it wasn’t really Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn with all the True Grit , it was in fact, 14-year-old Mattie Ross (played by Hailee Steinfeld), out to avenge her father’s death, who showed what she was made of.  Though Rooster, with just one eye and unsteady from too much whisky, could still shoot two corn cakes out of the sky.  Mattie found that a ridiculous waste of time. Her courage and determination carried the story from start to finish.

The movie was beautifully filmed. The cinematographer handily captured the vastness of the wide open Western delights.  Like huge night skies sprawling with stars, the prairies which seem to go on forever, as well as the soaring, jagged mountain ranges.  All exhilarating to behold.

Jeff Bridges, as always, was magnificent, playing the crusty Rooster Cogburn.  I admit I can’t remember the original seen long ago (though I hope to see it again, soon).  In this version, Mr. Bridges never once reminded me of John Wayne. My guess is he made it his own.  As he will do. 

Matt Damon did a fine job, too as LaBoef, the Texas Ranger, also on the trail of Tom Chaney, the murdering villain.  Tom was memorably played, though briefly, by Josh Brolin.

The movie was dark. A trademark of the Coen Brothers. Even my beloved Big Lebowski  has some darkness to it.  Perhaps True Grit 2010 was a little violent and gory in spots.  But it is a Western, and I’m sure, no more so than the first one. I excuse David Lynch of such indiscretions, surely I can do the same for the Coens.  And I am perfectly free to hide my eyes, if I choose.

But the Coen Brothers are also expert at bringing humor to the dimly lit corners of our fears.   This movie was no exception.  Waves of humor wafted through it.  And a meandering stream of love and tenderness was readily apparent under its rough exterior.  There was something in Jeff Bridges’ performance which connected the fading Marshall with the spunky, young girl, much the way he did as the heroin-injected foil in Terry Gilliam’s Tideland. The young actresses in both movies held their own in these roles.  (The Tideland part, however, played by Jodell Ferland – no doubt younger than Hailee – was far more complicated.)  I sense that Jeff Bridges carries a fine heart to every role he plays.

Without giving it away, I have to say I was disappointed with the ending.  It was too abrupt, leaving too many emotional threads hanging.

All in all, though, another really good film from Joel and Ethan Coen. Worth seeing on many levels.

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