The Dude abides, but how does he subsist in order to perpetually “take it easy for all us sinners”?
For over 75% of the movie, we know nothing about how The Dude pays for his endless supply of White Russians (or Caucasians as he often calls them,) but we have a number of clues that he’s unemployed and low on cash, but not destitute.
From the opening scene, we learn that he’s definitely not the millionaire Lebowski that he’s being confused with by the thugs who break into his house. Soon after, we learn that he’s almost two weeks late on rent, a situation that would cause many to panic, but The Dude responds to the stress by pouring another drink and doing Thai Chi.
He gets roped into a huge mystery plot because of another man who shares his name (this other man is the movie’s “Big” Lebowski,) but the majority of his time seems to be taken up with “self-care” activities like bubble baths, meditation, listening to ocean sounds, yoga, and bowling. He is always in a comfortable state of dress that’s socially unacceptable for most jobs. (Although with the COVID-19 pandemic, The Dude’s attire has never been more relatable.)
His life wasn’t always this chill. After Maude Lebowski seduces him in order to have a baby (even though they share the same last name, Maude is the other Lebowski’s daughter, and presumably is no direct relation to The Dude) The Dude finally opens up a little bit. Even in this seeming moment of intimacy, however, he still remains a mystery.
“I was, uh, one of the authors of the Port Huron Statement. The original Port Huron Statement. Not the compromised second draft. And then I, uh… ever hear of the ‘Seattle Seven?’ That was me, and six other guys” The Dude tells Maude while lighting up a joint post-coitus.
“And then, the music business, briefly . . . A roadie for Metallica. The ‘Speed of Sound’ tour, a bunch of assholes. And then, you know, a little of this, a little of that, my career has slowed down a little lately,” he says.
“What do you do for recreation?” Maude asks.
“Ah, the usual: bowl, drive around, and the occasional acid flashback,” The Dude says before he has a coughing fit from the weed he’s smoking.
What is the Port Huron Statement?
The Port Huron Statement is a real thing, and you can read it in full here. It was written in 1962, in Port Huron, Michigan.
This was written 30 years before the events of The Big Lebowski, which was set in 1991, and is the founding document of The Students for a Democratic Society. It’s a lengthy document that seeks to find solutions to the myriad of the world’s ills at the time, most of which we still face in some form.
“We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit,” the statement begins.
Although The Dude helped write this ambitious plan for a better world, he now is more focused on just making his here-and-now peaceful and tolerable to him. He did not seem to spend the next 30 years after contributing to the Statement trying to change the world. He also doesn’t seem to be outwardly suffering over all these things that he cannot change.
Who are the Seattle Seven?
The Seattle Seven were prominent members of the Seattle Liberation Front, anti-Vietnam War movement. This detail is from the inspiration for The Dude character: Jeff Dowd.
Jeff Dowd was one of the “Seattle Seven” and even spent time in jail for protesting the Vietnam War. He later became a movie producer, which is how he met The Big Lebowski’s creators Joel and Ethan Coen.
Again, this background suggests that The Dude was a very involved political activist in his youth, but has settled into a laid-back existence as time marched on.
Does The Dude have any employment history?
Neither the Seattle Seven or The Port Huron Statement are past jobs, but they are defining parts of an early period of The Dude’s life that give him meaning. He then moves on to list the only real “employment” that can be found in the movie: being a roadie for Metallica’s “Speed of Sound” tour. Metallica never had a Speed of Sound tour IRL, and The Dude’s inspiration Jeff Dowd has no connection to Metallica.
The details of The Dude’s life then dissipate into vagueness: “a little of this, a little of that.” He says his “career” has been slow lately, but even with the information, he’s given Maude there is not much of an indication that there was ever much of a career, to begin with. How the Dude pays his rent and supplies his White Russian addiction is still unknown.
Money is such a huge part of the plot, and at first, the ransom seems straightforward. It looks like The Big Lebowski is the successful, millionaire, counterpart to The Dude Lebowski. We think he has given The Dude a million dollars to deliver in exchange for his kidnapped wife, and we think this million is stolen from The Dude. By the end of the film we find out all of this is an illusion.
The Big Lebowski didn’t actually have access to a lot of money. He was given an allowance from his dead wife’s estate and was able to live in the mansion that maintained the image that he was more rich and powerful than he actually was.
The money wasn’t ever in the stolen briefcase either, so the “loss” of the million dollars was never a loss anyway for The Dude. (The theory is that The Big Lebowski withdrew the money from his wife’s foundation to keep for himself because he didn’t have a lot of access to money on his own, essentially stealing it.)
While initially, we may wonder how The Dude makes money to survive, the theme of money in The Big Lebowski becomes far more abstract and philosophical as the movie unravels and turns everything on its head. In the end, there aren’t a lot of answers given. The only thing that remains is that The Dude is still out there bowling, drinking White Russians, and taking bubble baths for “all us sinners.” The biggest lesson The Dude has to teach us is to try to enjoy our lives and let ourselves relax even though we find ourselves in an incredibly stressful and confusing world full of injustice, power plays, endless controlling systems, and mind-numbing rabbit holes. The “sin” the narrator suggests we’re “all” committing may be worrying and suffering so much. By the end of the movie The Dude isn’t a specific guy who exists in the world, but a beatific iconic figure who models a path of peace and relaxation rather than one of suffering.