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AT LARGE: Strikes and gutterballs

AT LARGE: Strikes and gutterballs

Recovering brilliantly with a 7-10 split, ARN's Matthew JC. Powell wonders if all the world is a bowling metaphorLast week I ventured out with a friend to see the Coen Brothers' latest movie The Big Lebowski. I'd been enthusiastic to see it, having enjoyed Fargo, but I hesitated because of bad reviews. I don't normally allow reviewers to shape my movie going habits, and I shouldn't have this time - The Big Lebowski is lots of fun.

Of course, I was probably seeing things in it that the bulk of movie reviewers would miss. You see, I'm an IT type of person, with a reasonable amount of exposure to the technology industry. Since I presume you are also such a person (if not, what in the world are you doing reading this), my guess is that you would understand the metaphors, similes, allegories and other pretentious buzzwords that I saw in it.

What the Coens have created in The Big Lebowski is an allegory for Corel, although obviously they could never tell the general public that. Picture the ad: "Canadian company makes good in graphics then buys up business applications from a giant American com-pany in hopes of building a place for itself in the world of serious productivity. A story of hopes and dreams, yada yada yada." And it goes on. Who would go see that? Maybe I would, possibly you would. But John Citizen would give it a miss.

Therefore, the Coens cleverly disguised their movie as a thriller about kidnapping and mistaken identity revolving around the central conceit of tenpin bowling. Now that sounds like a winner. I don't have the stats immediately to hand, but I'm pretty sure that movies about tenpin bowling generally gross better at the box office than movies about Canadian software companies. I'll check it and get back to you.

Because the plot is merely a cover for the main concern of the movie (the plight of Corel) and because I hate it when an article spoils a movie for me, I won't say too much about what happens. The important thing here is the characters - most reviewers missed that fact, believing (foolishly) that the plot ought to make sense.

The "big" Lebowski of the title is a corrupt, bitter corporate type, trapped by his fortune. He manipulates and alienates everyone around him, making some very bitter enemies and no real friends. No prizes for guessing what he represents.

After one of his schemes goes wrong, Lebowski enlists the help of a group of nihilists to regain some lost money. This group professes to believe in nothing, and to have no real alliances, when in fact they adhere religiously to a notion of self-interest. They are unaware that Lebowski has tricked them, but they believe they are tricking Lebowski. The nihilists represent Java and, to a lesser extent, Sun itself.

Amalgams and composites

Corel itself is represented by three characters:l Jeffrey Lebowski, alias The Dude (Jeff Bridges), is a pacifist, laid-back, easygoing kind of guy. But he's no idiot. Drawn into this whole mess by a case of mistaken identity (how many people do you know who have confused Word and WordPerfect) he still manages to keep his sense of perspective. Even though opportunities for double-crosses arise frequently, he never asks for more than his fair share. What he wants, more than anything, is just to be recognised and accepted as The Dude. For me, he typifies all that is Canadian about Corel - accepting that it will not wipe out Microsoft Office, but deeply desiring to be accepted as the alternative. His fixation on his rug, which "ties the room together" represents Corel's foundation, its graphics products. The metaphor becomes confused here, since the only artist in the film is Maude, the daughter of the "Big" Lebowski. Don't stretch it too far, I say.l Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) is militaristic, reactionary and aggressive. Given the opportunity, he wants to take the lot, to win at all costs, and especially to defeat the "Big" Lebowski. He represents certain, shall we say, American aspects of Corel. I mean, really, he's the only character in it whose religion is known. If that doesn't scream "Orem, Utah" at you, I don't know what will.l The Dude's teammate Donny (Steve Buscemi) is the also-ran. He's never really clear on what the rest of the team is doing, but obviously wants to know. He's focused on the game of bowling even when the others are distracted by kidnapping, extortion, dismemberment and the like. Most tellingly, his confrontation with the nihilists proves catastrophic. Donny obviously represents Corel Office for Java.

There are, of course, other important characters. However, there's only so much room on the page. There's a nymphomaniac, a pornographer, a lunatic Hispanic bowler and a mysterious stranger. It should be as obvious to you as it is to me which aspects of the IT industry these represent. Oh yeah.


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