Friday, February 25, 2011

The Man in the Black Pajamas

I've taken a breather from the AFI Top 100. May never go back. I got burned out on all of the gimmicks and themes. Here's a bit of a change of pace.

In The Big Lebowski, which is easily in my top 5 all-time favorite movies, Walter Sobchak makes a reference to "The Man in the Black Pajamas - a worthy f***ing adversary." Google that phrase and you'll find it's all over the internet, much like anything Walter ever said. I have a theory on this that hasn't shown up anywhere. In fact, if I put this phrase together with another, very similar phrase (both in their own quotes), there are absolutely ZERO hits on Google. So, it needs to be said. What better place than my movie blog? Are you ready for the second phrase? Okay, here it is:

"The man in pink pajamas."

That this came from a hundred-year-old novella is in and of itself no reason to raise an eyebrow. Two different colors, surely this doesn't mean anything. But, if I were to tell you that this phrase came from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, would that get some gears grinding? No? Well, take in these other important facts, and see if the ever-so-creative Coen Brothers are making a hooded reference for the ages:

  • Joseph Conrad was born born J√≥zef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski. He was Polish, just like Walter Sobchak. (don't worry, they get better)
  • Heart of Darkness was the basis for the movie Apocalypse Now, which is about the Vietnam War, which Walter fought in.
  • There was no man in pink pajamas in Apocalypse Now, but there was a man in a getup that looked something like pajamas, black ones. That was Colonel Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando.

The man in pink pajamas in the book was actually Marlow, who was looking for Kurtz in the Congo. In both cases, he was the representative of an organization who viewed Kurtz as an adversary who had gone crazy in the jungle and turned himself into some sort of king. If you're familiar with either the book or the movie, you'd know that Kurtz was a "worthy f***ing adversary."

Now sure, we see in the next line that Walter mentions "a bunch...trying to find reverse on a Soviet tank," which would imply that his reference to "the man in the black pajamas" is a collective, not an individual reference. We can also surmise that Walter did not physically go into Cambodia to hunt down Colonel Kurtz, whose reputation as a black pajama wearing man was probably not widespread.

However, we cannot claim that the use of "the man in...(color) pajamas," in conjunction with its significance in the book upon which one of the great Vietnam movies was based, was an accident. The casual viewer can easily equate the mental picture with that of a ninja or a Vietnamese jungle fighter, but I think the Coens wanted us to dig deeper. I'm disappointed that no one else has gone there in 15 years. Go read Heart of Darkness. It's a helluva book.

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OpenID carlwillis said...

The Coens didn't coin "the man in the black pajamas" as you surmise, though they certainly have a brilliant ear for memorable colloquialisms. The Big Lebowski is, more than anything else, a playful romp through the parlance of our times. The "black pajamas" refers to the uniform typically worn by NVA guerillas; see p. 1 of the following article from Time, Aug. 25, 1967:,9171,841030,00.html

September 23, 2011 at 7:42 PM  
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