Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Dude Abides

I picked up a new book today called "The Dude Abides - The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers.

I have seen a few of the Coen Brothers movies and thought the book would be a fun poke at some of the quirky characters developed in these films. What I found was a deep, disciplined examination of the relationship theology - the study of religion, plays in the characters and screenplays of these film making brothers.

The book calls the Coen Brothers "secular theologians" in that they don't profess an overt relationship with God, but through their films the themes of the Bible are examined and continually played out by the characters.

The Coen Brothers have to their credit such cinematic gems as Raising Arizona, Barton Fink, Fargo, the Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Lady Killers, No Country for Old Men, Burn After Reading and 6 others.

The book reveals that the themes of these films are generic and universal. The order in the world can be upset and there are consequences, not necessarily for those you would have thought or in the measure you expected, but that is part of the gospel also.

The book espouses 14Coenmandments:

1. What goes around comes around. Even though divine intervention happens from time to time, don't count on it to save you from your sins.
2. Every action has a reaction. What you do has consequences, even if you don't see them immediately.
3. Don't mistreat women. They're all special ladies.
4. Whatever you try to hide, somebody will discover. In other words, your sins will find you out.
5. It is better to be kind than to be right, and love always wins.
6. Take chances. Don't be paralyzed by doubt or fear.
7. Beware of false piety. Sometimes there's a stranger in your midst come to destroy you.
8. Don't get too hung up on dogma and legalism. That's just, like your opinion, man.
9. All moments might be key moments. Act like they are.
10. No one knows the quality of a person's heart except for God.
11. When it comes to suffering, don't ask why. There's no good answer.
12. No one really knows anyone completely. Remember, you only know what a person chooses to let you know.
13. Be compassionate, respectful and generous - especially to strangers. You never know when you might be talking to a lamed-vavnik, a prophet, or an angel in disguise.
14. You don't know what God is thinking. So quit acting like you do.

I have seen several of the the Coen Brother's movies. I like them because they are visually interesting and word dense. The Coen Brothers like words and use a lot of them. There are a lot of quotable quotes in each of the movies. In fact several of the Coenmandments above have references to several of their movies. Much like their movies there are a lot of inside jokes and self deprecating references.

The book "The Dude Abides" is written by the theologian and religious columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, Cathleen Falsani. She has a very entertaining and thought provoking message about something that is rare in movies. A storyline that makes you think about more than just how to get out of the parking lot after the flick is over.

I heard someone on a talk show describe a Coen Brothers film as needing to be seen more than once so you could get the plot out of the way and watch the complex interplay between characters without having to guess where the story was going. All the Coen Brothers movies I have seen are, to me, funny cinema and worth watching.

After reading this book I will look at these movies differently. Not just as a two hour diversion from reality, but I will look for the theology.

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