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Walter Sobchak would not approve. Observant Jews around the world found an unlikely fictional ally in the fight for traditional religious observance eight years ago with the release of Joel and Ethan Coen's The Big Lebowski, a stylishly absurd comedy about three forty-ish slackers trying to track down a stolen rug in early 1990s Los Angeles. The film centers on a stoner known as The Dude (a glazedover Jeff Bridges), but John Goodman walks away with the movie thanks to his barnstorming, car-vandalizing performance as Walter Sobchak, a Polish-Catholic convert to Judaism constantly railing against those who would have him go bowling on "shabbos."
Based on his dialogue in the movie, it's safe to say the character would be ambivalent at best about the Jerusalem Cinematheque's plans to screen The Big Lebowksi at 10 p.m. tomorrow night as part of a three-movie Coen Brothers mini-marathon. (The other films on the roster are Miller's Crossing and seven-time Oscar nominee Fargo).
Though the film produced only mediocre box office results, The Big Lebowski has accumulated an obsessively devoted fan base over the years with its intentionally nonsensical storyline and array of offthe-wall characters.
Goodman's character, however, is by far the film's most quotable, providing a constant stream of semi-demented commentary on issues as diverse as the Vietnam War, his ex-wife's dog, and the philosophical underpinnings of German nihilism. His most explosive outbursts, however, are reserved for those who suggest he compete in leaguesponsored bowling tournaments during the Jewish Sabbath. "I don't roll on shabbos," he roars after seeing an updated bowling league schedule. "I told those [expletive]s down at the league office a thousand times that I don't roll on shabbos!"
While colorful, it turns out the character's outrage is also based on something resembling true commitment, and on a respectable understanding of what the holiday has traditionally required. "Saturday," he explains at a rapidly increasing decibel level, "is shabbos, the Jewish day of rest. That means that I don't work, I don't get in a car, I don't [expletive] ride in a car, I don't pick up the phone, I don't turn on the oven, and I sure as [expletive] don't [expletive] roll! Shomer shabbos!...Shomer [expletive] shabbos!"
So how might the character respond to the fact that The Big Lebowski will kick off a film series after "shabbos" begins tomorrow - and in Jerusalem, no less? The Cinematheque official responsible for scheduling the three-movie event couldn't be reached for comment, but another staffer noted that the theater screens movies every Friday and Saturday. She said she wasn't sure whether Sobchak's pro-shabbos sentiments were taken into consideration before the decision to screen The Big Lebowski tomorrow night, and said she didn't know what the Herzl-quoting character might say in response.
An educated guess might be ventured, however, based on a conversation between Sobchak and The Dude somewhere near the middle of the cult classic, in which the Bridges character chastises his friend for "living in the [expletive] past."
Sobchak's answer is curseladen but historically astute - even somewhat poignant, if you can get past the language. "My point is," he begins, "here we are, it's shabbos, the Sabbath, which I'm allowed to break only if it's a matter of life or death...Three thousand years of beautiful tradition, from Moses to Sandy Koufax...You're [expletive] right I'm living in the [expletive] past!"
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