Friday, May 8, 2009

The Big Lebowski: The Noir Comedy

In The Big Lebowski the noir world is tested. The film showcases a number of tropes, twists, and conventions of the noir genre. In a typical film, these things would result in a serious and often tragic story; Lebowski is neither. Injected into this story are a number of characters outside the noir world, namely The Dude, Jeffrey Lebowski. He’s a lazy, easy-going, individual with little desire for material gain, which makes him immune to the pitfalls of the noir world. Sure, he goes through all the motions, but all he wants is the rug that “really tied the room together”. The genius of the Coen brothers is their utilization of such a character in a noir plot. Their film isn’t a comedy set in the noir world; it’s a comedy because of the noir world’s failed attempt to exert itself on The Dude.
The noir aspects of Lebowski’s plot are a nod to classic noir films like The Big Sleep. However, instead of injecting a proper P.I. into the kidnapping case, the Coens give us an unemployed slacker. What’s ironic about The Dude is that he’s more aware of certain twists than your average P.I.. He assumes off the bat that the kidnapping is a ruse. His divulging of this deduction to Walter leads to making the story a lot more complicated. When he attempts to read Jackie Treehorn’s note via the North By Northwest tactic, he just ends up with an illustration of a penis. His attempts to engage with the noir world and utilize his knowledge of it end absurdly. This, on a larger scale is what the Coens accomplish with the film as a whole. When placing noir under a comedic lens, the genre becomes ridiculous. How can one enter such a world without becoming hopelessly lost and disenchanted? They would be likely to say, “fuck it, let’s go bowling” and retire to the real world.
This exposes what can be done with genre when altering tone. Noir, in itself isn’t as specific as your typical noir film. The classic films incorporate elements from drama, mystery and melodrama. Noir, as an idea, is broader than that and can be infused with comedy to create something very funny. Any genre can be funny, sad, or scary, it’s just a matter of how you treat it.
The Dude’s abiding strips the expectations from classic noir, which aims to punish its protagonists. The noir comedy shows someone who will not give in to its dramatic and tragic elements. The film isn’t a drama, tragedy, or really even a mystery, so why shouldn’t he just abide. There’s no need for a big reveal or downfall because noir doesn’t have to be about those things. The Big Lebowski is about the perpetuation of the human comedy, especially in the face noir. Naremore writes about Mulholland Dr. at the conclusion of “Noir in the Twenty-first Century” that if postmodern noir is capable of creating such a “wrenching dramatic effect, then it remains capable of almost anything” (162). Postmodern noir’s ability to create such an effective comedy in The Big Lebowski also speaks to its vast potential.

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