The Big Lebowski, a cult classic comedy focused on bowling, White Russians, and life in Southern California, offers several good funeral film lessons.
This 1998 movie written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen is a story about Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), an unemployed hippie who runs into all sorts of trouble when he’s mistaken for a millionaire with the same name. When The Dude seeks restitution for his ruined rug and enlists his bowling buddies to help, all sorts of weird situations erupt.
Bowling buddy Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) is a Vietnam veteran with anger management issues. Theodore Donald ‘Donny’ Kerabatsos (Steve Buscemi) also bowls with them. Together, they try to make the most of the strange situations they stumble into and to understand the bizarre people who enter their world.
Nihilists (those who believe in nothing) set upon the trio outside the bowling alley late in the film. Donny meets his maker due to a heart attack. This brings us to the funeral film lessons in The Big Lebowski.
Frugal Cremation Tips
The Dude and Walter go to a mortuary to pick up their friend’s ashes. Walter peruses the bill and questions the funeral director, Francis Donnelly.
WS: “What’s this?” (tapping the bill)
FD: “That’s for the urn.”
WS: “Don’t need it, we’re scattering the ashes.”
FD: “Yes, so we were informed. However, we must of course transmit the remains to you in a receptacle.”
WS: “This is a hundred and eighty dollars.”
FD: “It is our most modestly priced receptacle.”
WS: “A hundred and eighty dollars?”
FD: “They range up to three thousand.”
The Dude: “Can’t we just rent it from you?”
FD: “Sir, this is a mortuary, not a rental house.”
The scene builds to comic intensity, ending with an angry Walter asking if there’s a Ralph’s nearby. If you’re not familiar with Southern California, Ralph’s is a popular grocery store chain. They get a can of Folgers Coffee, which makes an appearance in the next scene.
The lessons from this scene:
- You do not have to buy an urn from a funeral home.
- You can bring in your own container to receive cremated remains from a funeral home. Use your imagination – a coffee can, a vase, a decorative box – hobby shops have lots of good options.
- You can take the remains home in the most basic container, a cardboard box lined with heavy plastic, which is how the funeral home ordinarily receives the remains from the retort.
- Some folks will wrap the cardboard box in colorful fabrics and ribbons or in wrapping paper changed to reflect the season.
- A coffee can is just the right size for holding the ashes of most people.
A Lesson in Eulogies and Ash Scattering
In the next scene, The Dude and Walter go to scatter Donny’s ashes in the Pacific Ocean. They silently climb to a bluff overlooking the sea.
Walter says a few words about Donny, but quickly veers into commenting with anger about the lives lost in the Vietnam War. As he commits Donny “to the bosom of the Pacific Ocean” while standing on a windblown cliff, he ends up covering The Dude with Donny’s mortal remains.
The lessons from this scene:
- When scattering ashes, don’t stand downwind!
- For disposition in the ocean, it’s better to be on a boat near the surface of the water and keep the cremated remains enclosed in a biodegradable container.
- Federal regulations dictate when sinking cremated remains at sea they should be placed at least three nautical miles off shore.
- However, there are no cremation police in the U.S. Be sensitive to your surroundings.
- Lastly, the eulogy should be all about the person who died, not about the person giving the eulogy.
The Big Lebowski is a fun film on its own. The funeral lessons are a bonus. Rated R, it’s available from Netflix and Amazon.com. Check it out!
The Doyenne of Death® Gail Rubin helps start serious conversations by presenting talks that use funny films to illustrate funeral planning issues.