Notes for an essay on symbols in The Big Lebowski

These are the notes of a longer essay I may eventually write on The Big Lebowksi. It was originally part of an essay about a particular scene but it just didn’t fit in there.

It’s no secret that The Big Lebowski is a film loaded with second meanings. I’ll admit that the first few times I saw it I was dense enough to think it was just a simple comedy (something at which it is pretty successful). However, given how blatant most of the message is, I’m slightly ashamed that I didn’t notice it (I was young and much less aware of global politics). Quite obviously it is a film about America’s involvement in war (it is set during the first Gulf War) and the America’s position in the global environment.

I could be completely wrong, but the nation of America is represented by four figures in the film: The (real) Big Lebowski (success, religion, the upper class), Walter (the average citizen, religion, war), the Cowboy (wisdom, the big brother to the world) and Jackie Treehorn (religion, excess). When each one of these characters speaks, they are expressing a common view held in the country.

Note: some of my quotes are probably wrong.


There are many references, some subtle and some unsubtle, to war throughout the movie. Here are some.

America and its values

Beyond war, a large amount of the movie is commenting on American society in general, xenophobia and the value it places on success and achievement.


The third angle on Lebowski’s comment on America is religion (not surprising considering the links to the Gulf War).

Other things

To be finished, maybe.