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Mark it zero (A world of pain)

Showtime (left) / HBO (right)
"Trinity" tests us. As Ben looks at the Trinity test site (on right) in "Carnivale."
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OKLAHOMA CITY –Has the whole world gone crazy? Am I the only one who gives a shit about the rules? Mark it zero!

It’s a valid question, Mr. Sobchak, an over-the-top, Coen Brothers-created character in 1998’s The Big Lebowski who was inspired by a hyper-militarist named John Milius who wrote the Academy Award-winning screenplay for the 1979 film Apocalypse Now, one of my favorite films – ever. Milius supported America's military and thought America didn't handle the whole "Bomb" thing very well ... I'll leave that for others to write about and/or ponder.

As I noted in both “The black spot” and “The Truman Show (Part 2),” The Coens were fascinated with Milius (as noted in the book I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski) who (f)or many years” kept a large photograph of an atomic bomb detonation on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands behind his desk, just like David Lynch’s Twin Peaks character Deputy Director Gordon Cole does in the rebooted Showtime series.

Deputy Director Gordon Cole is clearly obsessed with atomic explosions. (Showtime)

In this particular scene (I’m sure most of you know it by heart), pacifist/bowler “Smokey” (Jimmie Dale Gilmore) is accused of going “over the line” while competing with Walter, The Dude and Donny. I rewatched the clip after viewing some photos of myself at a Michigan bowling alley during a recent family vacation. I thought of the line “Mark it 8, Dude” and it made me think of the “Gotta light” episode of Twin Peaks: The Return, which is the eighth episode in what is essentially an 18-hour film of high art and mind-shattering brilliance.

But back to that bowling alley scene in The Big Lebowski

Things quickly escalate to the point that Walter pulls out a gun and threatens Smokey by telling him he is entering a “world of pain.” That really struck me in a way that it had not before. Zero, as in "ground zero," referencing either a bomb site or the site of the Twin Towers, following the attacks of 9/11. I know it sounds strange, but that "world of pain" also took on a different meaning. Well-meaning Walter points the gun, like America uses its military might. And many, many people endured much pain as the war machine churns ever forward. The same machine that created the atomic bomb.

Smokey (Jimmie Dale Gilmore) tells The Dude to "mark it 8." (Working Title)

As noted at IMDB.com …

The Dude: Walter, ya know, it's Smokey, so his toe slipped over the line a little, big deal. It's just a game, man.

Walter Sobchak: Dude, this is a league game, this determines who enters the next round robin. Am I wrong? Am I wrong?

Smokey: Yeah, but I wasn't over. Gimme the marker Dude, I'm marking it 8.

Walter Sobchak: [pulls out a gun] Smokey, my friend, you are entering a world of pain.

The Dude: Walter...

Walter Sobchak: You mark that frame an 8, and you're entering a world of pain.

Smokey: I'm not...

Walter Sobchak: A world of pain.

Smokey: Dude, he's your partner...

Walter Sobchak: [shouting] Has the whole world gone crazy? Am I the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules? Mark it zero!

The Dude: They're calling the cops, put the piece away.

Walter Sobchak: Mark it zero!

[points gun in Smokey's face]

The Dude: Walter...

Walter Sobchak: [shouting] You think I'm fucking around here? Mark it zero!

Smokey: All right, it's fucking zero. Are you happy, you crazy fuck?

Walter Sobchak: ...It's a league game, Smokey.

It’s a league game, all right. The biggest game in the world. And which side will come out on top.

Joel and Ethan Coen are notoriously vague about their film ideas. They put a movie together and move on to the next project, rarely looking back. They aren’t prone to conducting interviews and allow their films (good and bad) to speak for themselves.

But The Big Lebowski has been syncing with me (again) as of late. Over nearly 20 years since its release to mostly empty theaters, the film has become an entity of its own, spawning festivals, endless memes and much more. It has become a “happening” of sorts and a film that has its own secrets, waiting to be told.

Just like O Brother, Where Art Thou? was inspired by Homer’s epic poem Odyssey, and takes place during The Great Depression of the 1930’s, The Big Lebowski was inspired by The Big Sleep, with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. That film was filmed in late 1944 and early 1945 - but released in 1946, after the war and after Harry S. Truman dropped TWO big ones, as noted in Fletch.

Humphrey Bogart (left) in The Big Sleep (Warner Bros.)

When The Dude writes a check for 69 cents, the date is September 11, 1991 – exactly a decade before the 9/11 attacks – it mirrors a check (an IOU written by Sternwood’s troubled daughter Carmen, who “owes money all over town”) Bogart’s private investigator character Philip Marlowe sees at the Sternwood residence, dated September 11, 1945. The Big Sleep inspired my Dust Devil Dreams post "Jonesy," which syncs, ultimately with the atomic bombs dropped in Japan, via the character actor Elisha Cook, Jr. That name, "Jones," has been coming up a lot lately ...

As Joel Coen (reluctantly) told IndieWire back in 1998, Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep did influence the making of their film: “We wanted to do a Chandler kind of story – how it moves episodically, and deals with the characters trying to unravel a mystery. As well as having a hopelessly complex plot that’s ultimately unimportant.”

It is complex, mysterious, and “ultimately unimportant,” yes, but it’s what is not said that is most intriguing.

But that scene … the one that notes “8” and “0” made me think of 1980 – the year the Mount St. Helen’s volcanic eruption, the one that killed Harry R. Truman (among others), the man who inspired David Lynch to name the Twin Peaks Sheriff Harry S. Truman, closer to the name of the 33rd president, who also had a song written about him - "Harry Truman" - by Chicago co-founder and singer/songwriter Robert Lamm, whose new collection I just reviewed. Lamm, oddly enough, had a solo song called "Temporary Jones," which brings to mind the "temporary" Dougie Jones in the Twin Peaks reboot.

Lamm wrote the song in 1974, as President Richard M. Nixon resigned, following the Watergate scandal, and he was calling for Harry S. Truman (who had died some two years earlier) to come back and “right the ship” of America, which was clearly troubled at that time. This song was on Chicago VIII – yes, Chicago 8 (and “The Dude” was one of the “Seattle Seven”), the Chicago album (with the red cardinal on the cover), recorded at Caribou Studio in Colorado – the haunted recording studio where Elton John also spent a lot of time and recorded “I’ve Seen the Saucers,” one of his lesser-known but no-less intriguing songs.

Of course Truman was at the helm, as it were, when the diabolical Trinity test took place in New Mexico on July 16, 1945 – and, a month later – in August when “Fat Man” and “Little Boy” (references to The Maltese Falcon – Bogey again) were dropped on the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Two cities that endured a "world of pain."

The mushroom cloud at Hiroshima. (US Archives)

People of that generation like to look back fondly on Truman. And he was an amiable guy, but gave too much leeway to the military-industrial complex and the nuclear-war machine – the same “machine” that David Lynch and Mark Frost seem to be going after in Twin Peaks: The Return, one of the most amazing shows ever broadcast on television. Yes, people are repeatedly saying that Episode 8 – “eight is the gate” – is one people will be talking about and referencing for a very, very long time. This is Lynch at his Kubrickian finest.

Another show I've written about here at Dust Devil Dreams, Carnivale, which was on HBO in the mid-2000's, starred Michael J. Anderson, who played "The Little Man From Another Place" on the original Twin Peaks.

In my Carnivale-inspired piece, "A false sun," the "good" character, gifted Okie Ben Hawkins, is shown the future - 1945 - at the Trinity test site. The bomb is about to be detonated, and as it is detonated, the atom being split and the veil torn, as it were, Ben sees eveil Brother Justin Crowe. "Management" is trying to get Ben (who has the gift) to stop this evil from happening (these events are set in Depression era Southwest circa 1934) and kicking off the Earth-killing Atomic Age. 

And in both Carnivale and Twin Peaks: The Return, the radio is utilized as a form of "communication" for the forces of evil in both shows, as seen with the sinister "Brother Justin" (Clancy Brown) and The Woodsman (Robert Broski). Brother Justin is a key player, it is assumed, in the Manhattan Project, the same "project" that led to the Black Lodge denizens like BOB and "The Woodsmen" entering our world. 

"TRINITY" TWINS: Brother Justin in Carnivale (HBO) / "The Woodsman" in Twin Peaks: The Return (Showtime)

That show, sadly overlooked at the time, is fantastic, and addresses a number of the same themes Twin Peaks is delving deeply into. There are many, many compelling theories about where Lynch and Frost are taking us. Check out this blog post regarding the alchemical angle in Episode 8 and the series in general, to get a better idea.

This is heavy stuff, I know, and it's good to seek a little levity in troubled times such as these.

I'll leave you with this ... Hunter S. Thompson, Nixon's foe for years, and a bowling inspiration for "The Dude" in The Big Lebowski, once said that fellow Louisvillian Muhammad Ali unwittingly described “gonzo journalism” perfectly in the following statement: “My way of joking is to tell the truth. That’s the funniest joke in the world.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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