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The Tarot as a Frame of Reference in “The Big Lebowski” – The Magician and The World
by David Thorsteinsson
Editor's Note from Michael Santangelo: This section of the article on the Tarot as represented in the movie "The Big Lebowski" deals with a couple of minor, but important, characters. The movie is a prime example of how the Tarot lives in each one of us. More parts of this informative article are coming in future submissions. See The Tarot as a Frame of Reference in “The Big Lebowski” and The Tarot as a Frame of Reference in The Big Lebowski – Justice, The Star, and The Chariot.
The Stranger: the Magician
The image of the Magician shows a man standing behind a table laid out with various objects. In older tarot, such as the Marseilles, he wears a wide brimmed hat. In Waite‘s deck the symbol of infinity hovers over his head instead of a hat. The tumbling tumbleweed of the film may allude to that symbol.
The Stranger wears a cowboy hat and we only see him in front of a bar table. He is a mysterious figure as he apparently does not take part in the action of the film but acts purely as an all-seeing and prescient storyteller. Clearly he has great affinity with the Dude, although he seems to understand him and his world rather dimly. Strange things, smacking of the magical, happen when he is around, such as Maude’s phone call to the Dude at the nadir of his misery.
Martin ‘Marty’ Randall: The World
It is befitting for the Dude’s landlord to be a symbol for the world – our blue, hospitable planet. We first meet him – a man of round shape, wearing a blue T-shirt – when he is literally running his circle. He drops by to collect rent but does it without so many words. He asks the Dude to come and see his “Cycle” – his “Dance Quintet” – and to give him notes. The word cycle may mean the orbit of a celestial body. His surname, Randall, by its similarity in sound to “around all,” may suggest a globe or an orbit. Martin (which derives from “Mars”) may allude to Mars, the heavenly body. All these words and names echo the same cosmic theme.
The tarot card The World shows us a scantily clad woman performing a dance. Around her is an elliptically shaped wreath of leaves. In the four corners of the card are the four living creatures that draw the throne-chariot of God according to the Book of Ezekiel. The same four beasts have in Christianity come to symbolize the Evangelists, and the classic four elements in the Western magical tradition. Together the five beings on the card could be seen to constitute the Quintet of the landlord’s dance.
In the Landlord’s absurd and pathetic Dance Quintet, we see a plump man dressed in little but leaves who, after a Promethean struggle, seems to break out from a world of shadows and appearances and enter a real world – of pain. He seems to scale a rock in the form of a stool and from there reaches out for the stars hopelessly – with the abyss, so to say, yawning all around him.
The grotesque dance of the Quintet is set to the music of Mussorgsky’s Dwarf, appropriate for the creature that Goethe’s Mephisto calls Earth’s little god, that is to say, Man. Laughable as is his pathos, not one in the small audience even smiles.
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About the Author
David says that he has no real existence on the web apart from this article, so he "doesn't personally need any special introduction."
The article in question was written because he and Sigga (his lady friend) were much intrigued with the Lebowski film and its world.