Coens vs. Vietnam

Film as Literature

March 25, 2003

“The Big Lebowski is much ado about next to nothing. The celebrated Coen brothers\' anti-Fargo flick is empty of story substance and incomplete in plot” ( But it is not a waste of filmstrip. The Coen brothers were working on this film during a time of controversial war. Released in 1998, the war was over. But apparently, the Coen’s felt that their ideas on war needed to be shared. The Coen brothers use Walter, played by John Goodman, to present their case about the Vietnam War. Walter fought in Vietnam and obviously learned some things from being there. Often, Walter associates the Vietnam War with any subject that is brought up, even if there is no connection. The way the Dude put it, “It is [his] roll.” Other than the Vietnam Veteran, Walter is not much of a key player. The Coen brothers give their opinion of the Vietnam War through Walter’s character.

When Walter is first introduced he immediately tries to explain what happened to the Dude’s rug using analogies from the Vietnam War. “Were talking about unchecked aggression.” Walter is trying to say that the Chinaman has “no reason” except for his “unchecked aggression” for peeing on the Dude’s rug. The reason “Asian-Americans” seem aggressive is because of the fall in the Vietnam War. Walter tries to continue his explanation, “This Chinaman is not the issue.” The Coen’s are referring to the thought that the United States should have focused more on the head of state that controlled the wealth and resources instead of the civilians.

The Coens have a gripe with the Vietnam War that it followed no rules. When Smokey is accused of a line foul, Walter applies the fault of the Vietnam War. “This is not Nam. This is bowling. There are rules.” The gripe is that the Vietnam War was chaos and no rules were followed. Perhaps if there were rules, the Vietnam War would not have gotten so out of hand. Not until the rules became non-existent, the soldiers entered a “world of pain.” The threat of pain increased with the dismissal of the rules. When the Dude informs Walter that Smokey is a pacifist, Walter dismisses his actions saying “it is water under the bridge and we do enter the next round-robin.” The Coens are trying to sarcastically explain that the Vietnam War, despite the mistakes, is over and the United States will carry on with what may come next. Instead of an admission of guilt, the government tries to forget what happened and move on to what it plans to do next.

Walter feels that he did not sacrifice others in Vietnam for nothing. “I got buddies who died facedown in the muck so you and I could enjoy [a] family restaurant!” The Coens are saying that people died so United States citizens could continue their free rights. Walter often brings up the issue of the First Amendment. He knows his right to sit in the public restaurant and continues to finish his coffee for principle. His free exercise clause right is violated when the bowling tournament is scheduled for the Jewish Sabbath. Walter manages to get the tournament changed because of his religious practice. The Coens’ statement here is that although Vietnam killed many people, they sacrificed themselves so that others could benefit from the United States’ constitutional rights, “Our basic freedoms!” Even though the Vietnam War was not a threat to the United States, the United States tried to get South Vietnam free so they could also have basic freedoms. Walter learned that despite the United States’ defaults, United States citizens are the freest in the world and should practice their rights that others are not as fortunate to have.

Many people opposed the United States entering the Vietnam War including the Coen brothers. With the benefit of the brothers’ fame, they are able to present their view of war to others. The Big Lebowski is not a movie that has much of a plot but its purpose is to educate the Coens’ audience in a sarcastically comic way. Whether the audience agrees or disagrees with the Coens’ position of war, The Big Lebowski is still enjoyable.


Kirkland, Bruce ed. “With Lebowski, Coens come up tails.”