Procrastination. I remember when someone explained to me what it meant and the sombre mood it put me in. I cringed and shrugged and stared at the wall to let the information sink in, as a dark cloud enveloped my senses. Suddenly, it was everywhere. Small actions I’d not bothered to define previously became tainted with guilt. What before seemed like a reasonable detour was now an evil masterplan to avoid self-improvement. I started playing all kinds of sick little mind games with my sense of self-esteem, and lost them all.
Not long thereafter, I came across an essay by Mariano José Larra entitled ‘Vuelva usted mañana’ (‘Come back tomorrow’). It recounts an anecdote to draw conclusions about a nation. Frenchman Sans Delai visits Spain with the intention to complete his business dealings within a 10-day period. Larra is sceptical and laughs off the man’s naiveté regarding Spanish bureaucracy. Indeed, 6 months later Sans Delai is still in the country chasing up his paperwork. Wherever he went, he got the same reply: come back tomorrow.
Larra’s essay, written in 1833, is a critique of Spain’s laid-back rhythms of life. He finishes it off with a flourish, confessing that he’s been planning to write the essay for a long time, but kept postponing it until tomorrow. Now that the long-awaited ‘tomorrow’ has arrived for his essay, he hopes it will for the country as well. Yep, procrastination’s been around for a while.
I mention this because the more I think about it, the more I value The Big Lebowski (1998) as an important cultural statement of our time, and any time for that matter. There had been films and books and plays about slackers and time-wasters before, but it wasn’t until Jeff Lebowski arrived that a cult developed around an attitude of easygoing grace in its purest form.
The film, if you haven’t seen it, is a very strange delight. Based so-loosely-it’s-not on Raymond Chandler’s novel ‘The Big Sleep’, it’s a story of a man and the rug that he loved and lost. There’s a kidnapping, a millionaire, a porn king, a Vietnam veteran, a performance artist, a private detective, some nihilists, a man named Jesus, and lots of bowling. Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, the film’s essentially about taking it easy in the face of life’s tumultuousness.
Despite following the Coens’ megahit and Oscar-winning masterpiece Fargo (1996), the film didn’t do well at the box office. Having seen it on the big screen, I can testify to an aspect that often gets overlooked: it’s a visual feast. Roger Deakins, who has photographed most of the Coens’ pictures, does a wonderfully seamless job of making Lebowski’s Los Angeles unromantic and beautiful at the same time. The sequence where Jesus bowls to the sounds of the Gypsy Kings’ rendition of Hotel California has been called one of the best in the history of cinema. I’d agree with that.
Since its release on DVD, The Big Lebowski has become the definition of a cult hit, mostly because it’s so darn quotable. Once you familiarise yourself with the film’s world, its dialogue develops a uniquely contagious quality, apt for all seasons. To be honest, there’s so many phenomenal lines and they can be used in such a variety of contexts, I’ve spent a good while on this paragraph only to delete most of it, because to choose a few would be to ignore the rest.
In 2002, incessant line-quoting inspired a couple of the film’s fans to found Lebowski Fest; a night of unlimited bowling where Lebowski followers turn up dressed as their favourite characters and partake in Lewboski-themed fun. They even collaborated on a book covering every imaginable aspect of the film and festival. In 2005, another Lebowski fan formed The Church of the Latter-Day Dude, or ‘Dudeism’; a religion whose primary objective is to promote the philosophy and lifestyle of The Dude. It advocates letting go of life’s struggles in favour of enjoying its simple pleasures, like bathing, bowling or hanging out with friends.
Me, I deem The Dude a worthy figure of celebration. Laziness and apathy may be our foes, but hard work is not our only virtue. The older I get, the more I appreciate not people’s enthusiasm, but their peacefulness. Yes, feeling complacent about being idle is probably bad, but feeling anxious about it is no better. The Dude’s only message may be that stress isn’t worth it. And if you disagree: ‘Well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.’