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The Tarot as a Frame of Reference in “The Big Lebowski”
by David Thorsteinsson
Editor's Note from Michael Santangelo: I have always been fascinated with the way the Tarot shows itself in everyday life, including in the arts. This treatise on The Fool is part of a much larger article entitled "Unspoken Messages: Notes on Lebowskian Theory." This is one more example of how the Tarot lives in each one of us. Plus, it will be quite entertaining to fans of the movie "The Big Lebowski." I will publish the author's take on other cards in the Major Arcana in future submissions.
Various characters in “The Big Lebowski” (TBL) may be associated with the so-called Major Arcana of the tarot. This association seems to me to be so strong as to be almost certainly conscious on behalf of the Coens (directors Joel and Ethan). It is not clear to me, however, whether the Coens had one particular deck of cards in mind or more. I will refer mostly to the well-known Rider-Waite deck and occasionally to older types, such as the deck of Marseilles. Occultists believe that the images of the Major Arcana of the tarot transmit deep spiritual wisdom from ancient times and as such they have been likened to the archetypes of Carl Jung. Some of their images, like Death and Justice, are part of common lore. Their images have probably given the Coens a cue to many details in the film. Also, if the characters of TBL are indeed based on the tarot, it may help explain their truly elemental force. I believe I’ve found 13 convincing correspondences with the tarot cards, but let’s get down to cases.
The Dude: the Fool
The image of the Fool shows a young man with a white flower in his left hand, a knapsack in his right. His attire in the Waite interpretation is highly decorated, but ragged in many earlier decks. In blissful disregard of danger, he is about to walk – or perhaps rather to dance – off a cliff. He is followed by a dog, which may be playful (Waite) or about to bite at his leg (older styles).
The Fool may be marked with the number zero or be unnumbered. According to Wikipedia this can be interpreted that the Fool “moves around always and cannot be pinned down. As such, the Fool is everyone and every place.” The Fool may be considered either as a blundering beginner or an adept. In his oblivion to circumstances he seems miraculously immune to the dangers of the world: He walks off cliffs unharmed and disregards the dog attacking him.
The tarot Fool holds a white rose in one hand and a parcel with his belongings in the other as he is walking off a cliff. The Dude carries in one hand a sack containing his bowling ball. Instead of a white flower in the other hand he holds a pint of milk, a joint, or a White Russian – most memorably when he is thrown by force into Big Lebowski’s limo.
The Fool is considered to have both masculine and feminine elements, as well as childlike characteristics. And so does the Dude. Although eminently masculine, he is often seen occupied in feminine activities like applying polish to his nails or tying his hair back with a clip. Additionally, he has the infant’s habit of grasping and tasting things that lie before him.
Throughout the film the Dude is falling over a cliff and into an abyss, so to speak. It begins with his coming home the first night – dancing along and blissfully unaware of the misadventures that await him – and being pushed into his toilet bowl. It goes on from there literally or figuratively, such as in his vision chasing Maude in the air and falling to the ground; his falling onto Jackie Treehorn’s table; falling backwards over in the police office in Malibu; and falling forward over the self-constructed contraption in his home. But he gets over it all relatively unscathed, both physically and mentally. He bears no grudge to anyone, nor does he learn a lesson either, and soon after the event “it doesn’t even hurt any more.”
There is indeed a dog around the Dude, and we are talking about the Pomeranian here. The first thing it does when let out of its cage is to go and sniff at the Dude’s feet. Perhaps the “marmot” refers to the fierce dog of the older tarot.
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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.