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Dude Abides: The Gospel According To The Coen Brothers
by Cathleen Falsani
Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530, pb, 239 pp., 2009, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-310-29246-3.
The Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan, (originally from Minnesota) are two of Hollywood's successful filmmakers, with a total of fourteen films to their credit from the first, Blood Simple (1984) to the latest, A Serious Man (2009.) The Coen films have themes tinged with violence, payback, double cross, infidelity and humor. The author of The Dude Abides is Cathleen Falsani, award-winning religion columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times,
I thought The Dude Abides (a phrase taken from a Coen Brothers film, The Big Lebowski) would be an incisive look at what makes up a movie. I thought there would be a one page synopsis of a movie, and then 8-10 pages of dissecting the ins-and-outs of morals, judgments, cause, effect and the like. I was mistaken. The Dude Abides has a 1-2 paragraph mini-synopsis of each Coen Brothers film, then comes 8-10 pages of detailed storyline. Finally, there is a 1-3 paragraph summation, such as the end of Blood Simple (1984), “a meditation on free will.” That could be said for just about any film, in that there are choices to be made and people don’t always make the right ones.
Thus, the reader continues, through The Hudsucker Proxy (1993) in which the author dwells on Kevin Smith’s film, Dogma and on to O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) where we learn in two paragraphs, after ten pages of detailed film story synopsis, that “our brother is everyone we see” Burn After Reading (2008) has thirteen pages of detailed film synopsis and two paragraphs of Moral that tells us “what happens when we don’t follow God’s laws.” This statement could apply to all of the Coen Brothers films. Some would call it fate, or karma, in that if you don’t do what is “right” you may be clobbered somewhere down the line for it. The end of the book gives Coen Brothers “Coenmandments,” such Number One with “What goes around comes around.”
I was disappointed in The Dude Abides. To me, it is a compilation of film synopsis, in chronological order, and could be read in an afternoon. Explaining the Coen Brothers films---entertainment with irony---may have been the original intent of this book, but it doesn’t fulfill.
Reviewed by Marie Asner