The Dude Abides: The Gospel According To The Coen Brothers

“Be the Dude”

Now there’s some internet-friendly, tweet-ready advice for ya.  Welcome to a line of laid-back thought claiming many disciples, inspiring Dude-A-Thons and Lebowski Fests around the country, and producing buckets of ephemera to guide you in cultivating your inner Dude.  Say what you will about the tenets of Dudeism, at least it’s an ethos.

While not a devotee myself — a true life of the Dude would be mind-numbingly boring — I’d recommend keeping some Dude on speed-dial to help balance out the constipating effects of modern life.  An hour or two with a Jeff Lebowski can do wonders for your constitution, all while keeping the mind limber.

Cathleen Falsani picks up on this new doctrine and tries to trace its roots back through the entire Coen canon, looking for a spiritual core to an oeuvre often dismissed as adolescently amoral.  She’s an interesting writer, working both sides of a big cultural divide, with stuff picked up by the conservative evangelical press and lefty outlets alike.  As she’s a ’92 Wheaton grad, I can’t help but think that I know something of her world, Wheaton College being one of the other “good” schools where my high school funneled their little achievers.

And as such, I’m pretty sure that this is not the book she meant to write.  Heavy on plot synopsis, too tidy in its lessons-learned conclusions, I get a feeling that the author started off the day with a thousand thoughts, only to have her editors whittle and polish it down to something with careful commercial appeal.  Something palatable to the sort of church-going reader who won’t reference an R-rated film without a disclaimer.  Someone who hasn’t seen enough of the films to frame their reference in the first place.

Any serious student of the Coen brothers will find this book a little lite, but she does have her insights.  Falsani lives in a tough spot as an author, and I feel for her.  Half of her potential audience would find the idea of receiving spiritual truth through a film to be nigh-blasphemous.  The other half can’t fathom that there’s an issue.  One man’s provocative is another’s pedestrian, and it takes a deft touch to address them all without coming off as either a punk or a prude.

But she’s right, you know.  There is plenty to learn from the Coen brother’s films and their mottled heroes — Jeff, Ulysses, Hi, Llewelyn, Ted, etc. —  all decent men tossed in over their heads, making mistakes, suffering consequences, but generally doing the best they can with what they’ve got.  Slow-growth karma, or as I like to see it, baby steps toward salvation.  Perhaps grace and redemption aren’t far behind.

Who knows, they’ve never shot a sequel.

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