Most of the religious movements began as word of mouth, years before the supporting holy books. There were the times when electricity was scarce, limited to lightning – as special effects (SFX) sent by the Great Director. But that was then. Means of communications have evolved, so has (arguably) human society.
I’m here to present you the case where, instead the holy text, a movie acted as the manifesto of a religion. A new movement that, has accordingly taken some of the features of the genre, between philosophy and mock-religion. It all starts with 1988’s ‘Big Lebowksy’ which soon got cult-status, as many of Coen Brothers’ productions. This one preaches the art of ‘taking it easy’, as enacted by the eponymous character of a bearded Jeff Bridges aka ‘The Dude’. It’s worldview that mixes bits of hedonism, taoism, buddhism, hippie-ism and more than anything else a constant doze of easy-living laziness.
We happen to live in the glorious times of The Global Warming and more recently of the financial crisis. People are busy looking for the villains that made it all ‘possible’ but mostly for solutions, the way out. We’re here to present the 3rd way, a possible alternative. Quoting from the fore-father: “Life is short and complicated and nobody knows what to do about it. So don’t do anything about it. Just take it easy, man. Stop worrying so much whether you’ll make it into the finals.”
It’s a mock-religion or even better an anti-religion, as it doesn’t stand for any greater promise, the final prize worth dedicating your whole life for. Instead is the way of “The time is now” and “You are here.” This are ‘the dudes’. Not to be mistaken with the hippies which, are are merely naïve bands of sentimentalists who strongly believe that the world can and has to be saved. Dudes are way more laid back and cynical.
Dudeism was born at a certain melting point of western culture and eastern philosophy. It was defined through a column of a local newspaper by the first ever self-acknowledged dude, Oliver Benjamin a farang (the thai term for bule) living in an for-ever mellow happyland village of Pai, North Thailand, one of those places perfect for ‘doing nothing’. A small village in the middle of the mountains, surrounded by rice paddies and bamboo houses but having at the same time enough lazy-life supporting facilities.
Jeffrey Lebowski is the prophet, Oliver Benjamin the first apostle followed by armies of early adopters, flocks of backpackers, downshifters, connected to the right vibes more than ‘the voices’, through their mp3 players.
That’s not to say ‘the dudes’ are just a bunch of a lazy nihilists. For most of us, life-support requires some kind of cash-flow generating activities. We can’t all be absolute dudes, with a life forever bound to cocktails and bowling alleys. It’s the distinction between basic necessities/comfort and going too far for it by working your ass off as the TV commercials demand you too, that differentiates all the dudes in the world from all the rest of the people in the world. Is the art of going with the flow while acknowledging it as such. A mellow revolution from within. Self conscience and realising that money is surely important but not the end of it, “that nature is beautiful and that the good life consists not in collecting products and assets but in acquiring memories and friends” fighting will generally get you nowhere unless aggression is what you search for in the first place.
As stated before the absolute dudeness is more of a model, so, with some exceptions, the most easily recognizable examples of famous dudes also come from the world of the big screen. Think of Dennis Hopper’s and Peter Fonda’s characters in Easy Rider, Patrick Swayze in Point Break or even Jack Nicholson’s ‘As good as it gets’.
Jeff Bridges is a dudeist himself, being one of the reasons he accepted the role for a rather small pay check. The whole movie had a $15 million budget as the Coen Brothers try to tie light deals with the studios which in return would grant them more control over the life of the movie. Bridges easily identified himself with . So much in fact that he took the movie’s wardrobe person back home with him and both picked out clothes that he had that The Dude could wear.
The movie was far from an immediate success, in fact it was a financial failure in the beginning making only $3 million in returns. Most critics were rather underwhelmed. Still, now, a decade later the movie became a steady phenomenon, being quoted as “the first cult film of the Internet era”. Slowly, the DVD sales doubled the revenues from the theatres. The film’s devoted fans have emerged Lebowski Fest, an multi-annual festival that started in Louisville, Kentucky in 2002 that gets together people in bowling alleys, drinking White Russian and exchanging quotes. As all of Coens’ movies it wasn’t meant for the masses achieving instead a deep impact on a limited group of people.
So, what’s the secret behind the impact of this low key flick, a long time after the first screening? Of course, there’s the genius of the Coen Brothers, still, their other movies that reached box-office succes never left a similar mark. It’s a funny movie, with a brilliant script, full of quotable lines. Above all (I would say) it acknowledges and promotes a simple and happy lifestyle, a go-with-the-flow attitude leaving the least space for vanity and stress. One might not be able to entirely follow The Way of The Dude still one must admit it’s charm.
Even if dudeism is more a world-view then a full fledged religion, it can make a refreshing personal mantra and, as far as Montase readers are concerned, a good argument wether movies can really change anything around after the public exits the theaters. Well, this one, you might say, turned into a religion. Of course one that you would never have it spelled in your id card but might as well go into your Facebook profile.