Movies That Everyone Should See: “The Big Lebowski”

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LOL.

Where to begin?

If anyone needs to be informed, “The Big Lebowski” is a 1998 comedy written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen.

The plot is reportedly loosely based around Raymond Chandler’s 1939 novel, “The Big Sleep”. Now. I’ve never read the novel, so I can’t attest to any similarities or dissimilarities, but aside from the fact that the movie involves a kidnapping, I can’t imagine they’re very much alike. “The Big Lebowski” is one of the most eccentric, off-kilter, oddball stories in major motion picture history. After some thieves break in and urinate on the rug in his apartment in a case of mistaken identity, an unemployed bowling enthusiast (assisted by an unstable Vietnam Vet) finds himself tasked with resolving a kidnapping that involves a handicapped millionaire, a nymphomaniac trophy wife and a small cadre of pornographers. He winds up assaulted by the police, seduced by a feminist, accosted by nihilists, drugged by a porn mogul, involved in multiple minor car accidents and coated in cremated human remains.

Along the way he manages to squeeze some bowling in.

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At the center of this madness is The Dude, his Dudeness, Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing. Jeff Bridge’s most legendary character. The Dude is unemployed, fond of white Russians, and considerably “unkempt”. He wears his bathrobe out of the house. He has to write a check to make a 69 cent purchase at the Supermarket. The primary piece of decoration in his apartment, aside from the rug, is a poster of Nixon bowling. He likes to listen to whale songs in his bathtub while smoking weed.

At his side is the explosive, foul-mouthed Walter Sobchak, played by John Goodman. Walter is a Vietnam Vet with temper issues. He’s a stickler for rules, and lines. He carries a loaded handgun in his bowling bag. He’s recently converted to Judaism, and is adamant on keeping the sanctity of Shabbos.

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The third member of their bowling team is Donnie, played by Steve Buscemi. Unfortunately, other than the fact he’s a good bowler, we never get to learn much about Donnie. Probably because Walter is constantly telling him to “Shut the $&%# up!!”

When a couple of punks break into his apartment mistaking him for Jeff Lebowski, the millionaire, the Dude goes to meet the other Jeff Lebowski seeking compensation. He’s able to con a new rug for himself. Later, when Jeff Lebowski’s young trophy wife is kidnapped, the Dude seems to be the perfect bagman to make the exchange with the kidnappers. Of course, things don’t work out as easy as that. Walter gets involved, the Dude’s car gets shot up, they don’t make the exchange, the Dude’s car gets stolen and things only get crazier from there.

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The supporting characters that populate this movie are just as outlandish as the Dude and Walter are. The person hiring the Dude is an overachieving handicapped millIonaire (the OTHER Jeff Lebowski) who is attended to by a sycophantic yes man. Feminist and modern artist Maude Lebowski creates “strongly vaginal” art by zip lining naked over her canvases and flicking paint on them. There’s the landlord who performs interpretive dance, the pederast bowler, the western TV show writer being kept alive in a hyperbaric tube, the gang of marmut toting German nihilists and of course, the Cowboy narrator.

All of this madness is anything but mitigated by the directorial style of Joel and Ethan Cohen. They do for bowling and bowling balls what Scorcese did for pool in “The Color of Money”, only with less hustling and more licking. They utilize an ecclectic, diverse soundtrack. They incorporate a couple of hallucinatory musical sequences that include a flying, spinning, bowling, dancing Lebowski, vegas showgirls, Maude in “What’s Opera Doc?” viking gear, and Saddam Hussein handing out bowling shoes.

The Coens were definitely on top of their game.

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A movie this bizarre practically begs interpretation, and theories as to the movie’s deeper meaning(s) abound. There are so many theories regarding the movie that an entire collection of essays has been published, entitled “The Year’s Work in Lebowski Studies”  You can literally read entire collegiate thesis’s online. In terms of theories regarding the deeper meanings within the film, I have two favorites.

The first is that the film is an indictment of our Capitalist system of Democracy, with the left (The Dude) and the right (Walter) both endlessly arguing, yet both dancing to the tune of big business (the other Jeff Lebowski), while the American People (Donnie) pay the price.

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The other, which is my own theory, is that the two Jeff Lebowskis in the film represent the Id (The Dude) and the Ego (Jeff Lebowski), and the hyper feminist Maude Lebowski is a clever inversion on Freud’s originally paternal Super-Ego. Together they comprise “The BIG Lebowski”… the human psyche.

Regardless if you want to try to figure it out, or read things into it, or just sit back and laugh with and/or at its crazy, colorful characters, “The Big Lebowski” is a wonderful, unique movie that has worked its way into a place of honor in the pop culture lexicon. It works as a comedy and a think piece at the same time and that’s a feat that is NOT easily achieved. This is a movie that should undoubtedly top any respectable list of the greatest “cult” movies of all time.

It’s definitely a “Movie That Everyone Should See”. 

(For more movies in my “Movies That Everyone Should See” series, CLICK HERE!)

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188 thoughts on “Movies That Everyone Should See: “The Big Lebowski”

  1. I haven’t read “The Big Sleep” either, nor seen the movie (1946, supposed to be one of Bogart’s better ones). But one of the theories I’ve heard about this movie, and which makes sense to me, is that the Coens set out explicitly to break the rules of the film noir genre while vaguely paying homage to the genre at the same time. The Big Lebowski could certainly be taken as a modern view on classic film noir, except it gleefully does so many things the wrong way. That’s why Donnie’s part of the story ended the way it did. That’s not supposed to happen in films of the genre; everything is supposed to be connected and relevant. So they broke that rule. Just to see how it played. One of the marks of a master craftsman in any creative field is that they know when and why to break the rules, and with this film, the Coen brothers are asserting that they’ve gotten there. I have to agree with them, though the overall effect is one that is, perhaps inevitably, divisive. Some people love this movie, you and me among them. Some people hate it, such as my father. But either way I think it’s a movie that needs to be seen. Love it or hate it, it carved out its own little niche in film history, and merits having people see it and make their own decision on it rather than taking someone else’s word for it.

    • It was a strange movie when it was released. It took me awhile to latch on to it. Honestly, I think it was like the third time I watched it that the switch turned on for me.

      Of course, now that it has, I love it. This flick is so awsome. So unique. Its just incredible.

      Interesting facts there about the noir stuff. Hadn’t heard any of it.

    • I’m a big Bogart fan, and I’ve seen “The Big Sleep” many times (and “The Maltese Falcon” as well, which Lebowski also borrows elements from).

      I think the contrast between them is the Coen Brothers making a pointed comment about the movie heroes of today versus yesterday. The Dude, as the cowboy points out, is the Hero. Yet he does almost nothing right, and can barely even put a sentence together. Classic film noir (and westerns, as the movie also nods to) are, when you come right down to it, triumphs of The Man. The men in “The Big Lebowski” are extremely weak, can’t communicate with each other, and are dominated by women.

      • Come to think of it, there’s at least shades of that element in “Burn After Reading” as well. I’m not sure if it’s present in other Coen films or not… haven’t seen enough of them, though I don’t think it’s there in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

        And “The Maltese Falcon” is a great movie.

      • I’ve seen a lot of Bogart, and actually maybe I have seen the Big Sleep and I’m just not making a connection. I know I’ve seen Falcon more than once.

        You’re right about the Lebowski males. LOL. “Ineffectual” is a good word.

  2. In 1998, I was a sponge for movies. Well, I guess I am still, however; I’ve become jaded. I digress. In the early 90s, I was introduced to film makers who broke rules: John Sayles, P. T. Anderson, Pedro Almodovar & of course, the Coen Brothers. Watching The Big Lebowski unfold and watching each of these actors just nail it is akin to Pop Rocks going off in my mouth. Every second of this movie, no matter how corny or awkward or painful, lends itself to the beautiful dance choreographed by the Coens. I can watch this movie again and again because the individual moments of acting, along with the great cinematography make for a satisfying movie as a whole. Hmmmmm, I’m in the mood to go bowling, anyone?

  3. “Fuck sympathy! I don’t need your fuckin’ sympathy, man, I need my fucking johnson! ”

    Great flick and forever the role we will all remember Jeff Bridges for.

    • :D absolutely.

      I saw a dozen people in a row reference the movie, or the dude, when they asked him a question during the Tron Legacy panel, and he just laughed and smiled like it was the coolest thing ever.

      He’s awesome.

  4. “Nobody fucks with the Jesus” is one of my favorite movie quotes of all time. This is a really fun cult movie. It could probably be improved by shortening one of the 50 hallucination/stoned/drunk/unconscious scenes, but otherwise I enjoyed it.

    • He’s probably one of the greatest one scene of dialogue characters ever, right? I mean, they show him earlier, but he just has that one scene where he has lines.

      Either him or Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross. :D

      But yeah, so funny.

  5. Never seen it all the way through (just pieces here and there — but I do love John Goodman’s character, from what I’ve seen).

    I guess I should actually sit down and give it the attention it deserves some day…
    :)

    • My husband and I don’t always agree on movies, but this one is the exception! We watch it at least once a year, since we first saw it in the theatre.
      Eyes welling up from laughing so hard kind of movie for us…
      Thanks for posting…just the reminder I needed to pull out the DVD.

  6. My fav quote is: “The Dude abides..”
    Speaking of noir movies another “must see” imho is Mulholland Drive. I’m still trying to figure out the ending in that one!
    And one that I discovered recently is “Brick” with Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Actually, he’s been in a bunch of really interesting, small-budget indies before hitting the big time in Inception.

    • I totally love “Brick”. I need some more time to blog, because I DEFINITELY keep meaning to put a post on that one in my “Under the Radar” section. It definitely belongs there.

      Its just such a unique movie…

      Have you seen director Rian Johnson’s second movie? “The Brothers Bloom”?

      If you liked “Brick” I have a feeling you’d like that as well!

    • It certainly has worked its way into the popular consciousness…

      I’d recommend checking it out. I imagine when you wear that shirt, you’re going to get a couple of people who want to chat you up about the movie!

    • Cool man, I hope you enjoyed the read then.

      If you’re a member over there at Dudeism, give me a shout out over there will ya?

      I dont want to spam them myself, but I figure if I encourage others to do so, its kind of like a loophole… LOL!!

  7. Amazing movie. One of my favorites. Come to think of it, I still don’t have it on my shelf!
    Didn’t the same people create “Burn Before Reading”?

    • Yeah I know, right. It was a box office bomb… funny how things like that work out. If only we knew. I dont even think I saw it in the theatres.

      Could be wrong though.

      Thank you Tom, for stopping in!

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