Film & Media Studies Theory

Whitman College – FMS 387

The Dude Abides


“The Big Lebowski.” Although this film is far from what one would consider horror, it is still rife with examples of abjection. While the film displays abjection in many instances, I will focus on the abjection that is experienced specifically by the Dude.

the dude

At the film’s start, the Dude is established as just a regular unemployed, joint-smoking, middle-aged (but awesome) man, and we get a sense of his norm through the depiction of him walking down the aisle of a grocery store in a dirty robe and picking out a half gallon of half and half. However, the film very suddenly disrupts this norm and introduces the abject forms that threaten to cross the metaphorical border discussed by Creed. As soon as the Dude arrives home from the store he is ambushed and given swirlies by three nihilists. With this, the first form of abjection is established, because these nihilists threaten to disrupt order in the Dude’s life.

Rather than making the decision to situate himself away from the abject, the Dude “includes himself among [the abject], thus casting within himself the scalpel that carries out his separations” (Kristeva, 8). As the film progresses, the Dude places himself more deeply in the abject, surrounding himself with all of the people who threaten (and succeed temporarily) in disrupting all order in his life.


Throughout the film, the Dude continually experiences the placement of the abject through the use of humor. The Dude makes many attempts to laugh off the situations that he faces, but each time he does this it serves only to place the abject more firmly in his life (Kristeva, 8). The primary form of abjection that the Dude faces throughout the film is manifested in the characters that he encounters through the continual threat of castration, both metaphorically and literally. An example of this occurs after the Dude fails to make the ransom drop. As soon as the Dude arrives home, he is pulled into the “real” Lebowski’s car; knowing that he has screwed the pooch, the Dude scoffs and laughs at Lebowski and his right hand man in an attempt to displace the abjection he is faced with. However, as soon as the Dude finishes making his humorous excuses, he is presented with a threat of castration in the form of a woman’s severed pinky toe. According to Creed, “Woman’s body is slashed and mutilated, not only to signify its own castrated state, but also the possibility of castration for the male” (Creed, 256). When the Dude receives the pinky toe that supposedly belongs to Bunny Lebowski, he panics not simply because he is holding the mutilated body part of a female, but primarily because the severed pinky toe is a metaphorical threat to castrate his tiny, little manhood (by that I mean his penis).

Another interesting aspect of the abject throughout the film, relates to a point that Kristeva brought up, which states that abjection “interferes with what…is supposed to save [one] from death” (Kristeva, 4). This statement is strongly exemplified through the many declarations of innocence that the Dude makes. Typically, we believe that our innocence in a situation will protect us from any harm. However, as the Dude experiences, the fact that his only involvement with the original dispute was the unfortunate happenstance that his name is Jeffrey Lebowski, does not save him from the threat of castration nor from the disruption of order in his life.

See for yourself:


2 thoughts on “The Dude Abides

  1. I am a huge fan of this movie, so I was definitely drawn to your post and your take on the abjection present in it. You make so many good points about the threat of castration in the movie, and it is something that looking back, I never really considered. Even the idea of the man peeing on his rug kind of falls under this threat, reminding him that if he was castrated, he would not even be able to perform this bodily function anymore. And then there is the ferret in the bathtub, which is a very real threat. I know you chose to focus specifically on the Dude, but I was wondering what your take on the audience’s role in the abjection of the Dude is, and how they experience this abjection. Do you think that the male audience watching the Big Lebowski sees the threat of castration and subconsciously reacts to it? And also do you think that the scene with the toe can be seen in a light similar to a horror movie? Where it is pretty gross but you can’t look away? And that it reminds the Dude and the audience not only of castration but of the fragility of a human body and how easily it can become a corpse?

  2. As the assignment requests, you’re expansive in your thinking by using example well beyond the realm of “horror” that is such a prime example of abjection. Instead you identify abjection in forms that are deceptively less obtrusive to our being, allowing the concept to establish a more grounded relevance than aspects of the reading. For example, it is not just the grotesque that embodies the abject, but the alteration and threat to a normative lifestyle (or “boundaries”) that is so well articulated by the sudden change to the Dude’s mundane existence. It also speaks to the threat of abjection as not being in control of these boundaries. I also appreciate your incorporation of the “monstrous-feminine” in not only the (apparent) mutilation of the female body, but its literal and metaphorical representation of castration as it pertains to the Dude. Well done!

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