"Being able to express something is not the same as being able to put it into words."
--Dogen, The Meditative State That Bears the Seal of the Ocean (Hubert Nearman translation)
"What the fuck are you talking about?"
-multiple characters in The Big Lebowski
The Big Lebowski has me convinced: there's a little Dude inside of me.
That came out wrong. There's not literally a Dude inside of me.
What I mean is, I can relate to the Dude, the way he's pulled back and forth by whoever he talks to, not knowing who to believe, absorbing bits and pieces of their speech, speech which sounds meaningful but is at its core, bullshit.
Sometimes those voices come from others. In my case, they often come from the inside. There's entitled anger (my inner Walter Sobchak). There's icy intellectualism (Maude). There's selfish greed and exploitative lust (The Big Lebowski and Jackie Treehorn). There's the desperate urge to please, to have everything go smoothly (Brandt) and the rigid desire for order in the environment I believe belongs to me(the Malibu Sheriff). And of course, there's the narrator telling my life story as it happens, whether that story makes any sense or not (The Stranger). Am I wrong?
So there's no reason--and here is my point--to distinguish between the voices inside and the voices outside; both are capable of bullshit. As within, so without. Our task is to recognize that so many of the voices that sound so meaningful, important, and necessary, neither entirely make sense, nor have our best interests at heart.
At one point in The Big Lebowski, The Dude looks at himself in the reflection of the Big Lebowski's various commendations, awards. He sees himself in the Big Lebowski, and he sees the Big Lebowski in himself. It's interesting to compare this scene with the scene in Reservoir Dogs where Mr. White attempts to separate himself from one of his heist partners. He talks about not wanting to kill people while admitting he will do it if he has to, but claims he's different from Mr. Blonde, all while looking into a mirror.
"I ain't no madman," he tells his reflection.
But the truth is, we all have our madman qualities. The Dude is the hero of the Big Lebowski but by the end of the movie, he and Walter are participating in the very behavior, the very aggression that both of them claim will not stand. They are bracing first a teenage boy and then a disabled person using lines that the thugs that attacked Lebowski at the beginning of the movie used on him "Where's the money, Lebowski?" or "See what happens?"
Meanwhile, we discover the Big Lebowski is less un-dude than he appears. In our first meetings with him he extolls the virtues of employment and a life of achievement. But by the end, we learn from Maude that Lebowski has no job or ability to achieve on his own; he depends on an allowance from his daughter's inherited wealth. He is one of the very bums he despises.
Work is important in Reservoir Dogs too. The gang is united only by work; they know nothing about one another otherwise, and they try and fail to keep it that way. They wear work uniforms--identical suits. They erase their real names and refer to each other by color: Mr. Brown; Mr. White; Mr. Blonde; Mr. Blue; Mr. Orange; Mr. Pink. They talk obsessively about jobs and work and what it means to be a professional, and the unworthiness of those who fail to hold that standard.
But their personalities come out. Their personalities tear them apart.
The characters in Reservoir Dogs try to make themselves identical and fail. The Big Lebowski tries to make himself different from the Dude, the other Jeffery Lebowski, and fail. Lebowski and the Reservoir Dogs came try to measure each other through differences or similarities in external appearances, in ways of speaking, of dress. In Picture of a Rice Cake, Dogen warns his monks not to "hold up some measure of difference or similarity as the gauge of someone's capacity to train."
Dogen might not be a brother shamus to the characters in these movies, but they are part of him too. They are separated by oceans, centuries of time, and the space between movie characters and historical figures, but they are also has real as he is.
We define ourselves with our names. We define ourselves with our work. We define ourselves with our clothes.
Maybe most of all, we define ourselves with our words. We make up sounds, give them meaning, and then dress ourselves in them. But whether we being dressed in clothes from others (Your name's Lebowski, Lebowski. My art has been commended as highly vaginal) or putting them on ourselves (I'm not Jeffery Lebowski...I'm the Dude), it behooves us to remember that we are all naked.
We are all emperors.