I’ve been watching the Coen brother’s “The Big Lebowski” a lot lately, wondering how much is going on under its easy, loping eccentricity, what it’s really about.
One thing the movie is certainly not is a comment on 9/11.
That sounds stupid, doesn’t it? The story is set during the Gulf War but involves mistaken identity, bowling and the fake kidnapping of, in the parlance of our times, a young trophy wife. There is no terrorism in it. If you read the wonkish message boards following the film, though, suspicion about a 9/11 connection pops up frequently.
It is true that at the start of the story, as the first President Bush is insisting that Iraqi aggression in Kuwait “will not stand,” the hero, the Dude, is writing a check for the half-and-half he needs to make his favorite cocktail. The date on the check is Sept. 11, 1991, or exactly 10 years before the terrorist attacks that brought down New York’s World Trade Center towers -- proving, incidentally, that after being hit with airplanes, they couldn’t stand, either.
With Lebowskifests growing in popularity and the film settling comfortably into epic cult status, this ominous date is sure to infest “Lebowski” conversations to the detriment of truly valuable analysis. (On the assumption there is anything truly valuable to say about a movie that sold itself with the tagline, “They figured he was a lazy, time-wasting slacker. They were right.”)
So let it be clear: The Dude is not only poor, but cheap. The check he writes -- for 69 cents -- is dated ahead several days, to ensure Ralph’s won’t take the 69 cents out of his checking account before he can afford it. At least three days pass between him writing the check and being told by his landlord that “Dude, uh, tomorrow is already the tenth.” So the Dude, who may significantly be writing a check he can’t cash, is clearly not making a statement about 9/11. He may be making a statement about 9/6.
Possibly by design, the chronology of “The Big Lebowski” makes no sense if matched to an actual calendar for September 1991. The ninth was a Monday, but the scene with the landlord on that day comes right after a night of bowling, which comes right after the big Lebowski berates the Dude for wearing a bathrobe “in the middle of a weekday.” By the time the Dude’s friend is complaining about being forced to drive on Saturday, the Jewish sabbath, the chronology can arguably again be correct, since the 14th was a Saturday. But the landlord’s dance quintet, which was supposed to take place on a Tuesday, has already happened. As far as clues on a timeline gleaned from the movie, since the Coens’ script doesn’t offer many of its own, about three days have passed, and that’s either too many or too few.
In further refutation of a 9/11 link, there is also the fact that the movie was released in 1998. That makes it unlikely that the Coen brothers were making any statements about events in September 2001, to say the least.
The final point against the theory, as sharper contributors to the message boards inevitably point out, is that 9/11 and Iraq, especially the Gulf War, have nothing to do with each other. But while that may be an accurate observation about the movie, it shows little insight into the minds of conspiracy-minded Americans. That our president is one of those, not to mention a walking, talking conspiracy on his own, is one of the few points in favor of the theory at all.