Big Lebowski highlights veterans’ PTSD

The best example of PTSD ever portrayed in a movie was offered by John Goodman in “The Big Lebowski” when the character, a Vietnam veteran, pulls a gun on a fellow bowler and threatens to shoot him for crossing a line and attempting to enter a score in a book.

The camera shows the bowler slowly approaching the line but pans away before he sets the foot down right before the bowling ball is cast. Walter Sobchak, the so-called “crazed veteran,” immediately pulls out a handgun and points it at “Smokey” before he could write down a score for his effort.

Walter may or may have not have fired if Smokey refused to give himself a potentially “illegal” score. You can’t help but wonder what caused him to react the way he did.

And then the Vietnam veteran utters what many of us who have been in war can easily relate to in our hearts:

“This is not ‘Nam.

This is bowling.

There are rules.”


big lebowski.jpg

You mark that frame an eight, you‘re entering a world of pain.”


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is what mental health experts call what was once labeled as “Shell Shock” and “Battle Fatigue.” It affects about 22 percent of those facing combat in the military. “Crazed Vietnam veteran” is what television had portrayed several of them to be in the 1970s. Many servicemen refused to put their military experience on their resumes in order to avoid any wary looks from potential employers.

I never fired a gun in a bowling alley or outside of one. But I have kicked the door of a van when the driver had parked across the white line separating two parking spaces at a pet-food store. In other words, his one vehicle took up two spots!

The guy refused to come out when I yelled and screamed at him for such an inconsiderate act. I felt like an avenging angel bringing the wrath of God upon his head when I kicked his door and did not give up even when he got out of the truck, stood a head taller than me, and came toward me in the street. He called me a “fat fuck” and I shot back what are considered to be the worst fighting words from my old neighborhood, calling him a “pussy.”

Before any punches were thrown, however, the fight broke up when a bystander edged really close to us and called out for help.


Most of us suffering from PTSD have stories like these. We’re actually harmless but want to battle for the right cause when we believe someone has wronged the world in some way and nobody wants to take action.

The Big Lebowski captured that sense of what some of us call “righteous indignation.” I’m just glad no one’s ever been physically hurt by my actions.

6 comments on “Big Lebowski highlights veterans’ PTSD

  1. I have my own sort of PTSD/Anxiety, but I have absolutely no reference point of my own for war. I abhor & avoid violence, as I’m so sensitive. I jump at loud noises, do not enjoy fireworks at all, or helicopters overhead. I always think of vets & how hard those times must be. I’ve never seen The Big Lebowski. As is popular now, I’m a fan of the tv show, ‘This is Us’. When I watch I think of you, & wonder if you watch too, especially the latest episodes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • contoveros says:

      I think those of us with PTSD are more sensitive and feel things a lot more than our average friends and neighbors. It can be a blessing for the artist, the writer and the creative ones but can also be an explosive curse.

      Thanks for sharing. I’ll have to tune into “This is Us” now and see how it plays out.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. wolfshades says:

    Thank you for sharing about this, Michael. It needs more discussion (I think, always) because society at large still doesn’t have a good grasp of the various forms of mental illness and conditions people suffer. Not yet, anyway.

    I often wonder at the other after-affects of war action on the participants. A big one is situational awareness: I wonder if the training and application of SA while deployed becomes an instinct that never goes away? Do you scope out three separate means of egress whenever entering a restaurant (to use a wild example) – things ordinary civilians would never, well let’s say it would never cross our minds? Are there other new instincts you’ve had to develop because of your deployment?

    Liked by 2 people

    • contoveros says:

      I don’t look for ways to escape a room. I don’t sit with my back away from the door. But I do scope out the biggest threat to me. It’s usually the biggest guy in the room.

      Take him out and you can get away from the worst harm. Minimize the threat from them against us.
      I still get flashbacks when I hear a helicopter pass closely above me. And I stay away from all fireworks displays.

      Other than that, I haven’t had the urge to cause hurt to anyone except maybe cursing them out and giving the finger which I believe every good-blooded Canadian Lebowski fan would do too. . .

      Liked by 2 people

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