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. Reviewed this on my blog a few weeks back after getting the Blu-ray release. One of my all time favorite films. It’s certainly my favorite Coen brothers film, although I consider True Grit their best. Of the one’s I have seen anyhow. Shockingly I have never seen Miller’s Crossing. Does that make me a bad person?

    I like the theories on the films subtext but I rarely buy into that sort of thing. Although those do make sense I like to think that the film is a incredibly well crafted homage to pulp crime thrillers with some exceptionally well designed characters. They’re all developed to be at some point either a source of conflict or confusion for The Dude, often both.

    Oh and great review by the way.

    • Nice avatar. Is that Curious George in there? LOL.

      Thank you, thank you. Feeling the love on the review today, for sure.

      I’m not usually an analytical guy when it comes to watching movies either. Its just that this movie is one of those that is COMMONLY dissected. You know? People love playing arm chair film analyst with it. So I took my turn too. Not all of my write ups have that kind of bent.

      Well… maybe Blade Runner. LOL

  2. If you’re an ardent fan of The Big Lebowski and you live in London you have to go to the Big Lebowski party. It’s this huge party once a year, usually held in a bowling alley. You pay an entry fee which covers your bowling, a bottle of Vodka, Khalua, a gallon of milk, (White Russian ingredients),typical bowling alley food (burgers, fries), for the weed you’re on your own. The movie is screened in the background, the soundtrack is constantly played and best of all everybody has to come dressed as some character from the Big Lebowski – and people really make the effort, although there are plenty of people who show up in their boxers, white Tshirt and a bathrobe and slippers. As I recall it’s 8 people to a lane so this is best enjoyed with a gang of like minded friends. The night usually turns in to drunken bowling night and meeting other people who are willing to get as a crazy about a movie as you are. This movie deserves a big cult party! This is one of those, Must Do Before You Die Type things…on my list, probably not on more conventional lists! I can only remember having an AWESOME night, so that’s all I need! The organisers usually make a speech, (one of them actually looks like Smokey) about how they will definitely get Jeff Bridges next year. Great fun, you have to try this

    • GOD! I wish I could.

      You know what I wish even more was that I had heard about the one this year in New York. Its like right next door (I hail from Connecticut). They got the entire cast back together…. I’m so pissed I missed it… So upset.

      But oh well. Glad you had fun when you went, hope you enjoyed the read.

    • Thanks Rocker! :D

      Naw, I want to… I just never seem to be in tune with when they happen. Maybe I’ll have to remedy that.

      As I said a bunch of comments back, I DID get to see Bridges at Comic-Con, that was cool. He’s very very cool. You just can’t fake that. LOL

  3. I love the parts that reflected on the movie along with the ending that gives some interesting insight on theories for the film. I never knew a collection of essays was compiled, that’s really interesting. However, if your goal in this entry was to get people to watch The Big Lebowski (which I’m all for, this movie is wonderful) I’d recommend that you don’t spend so much time summarizing the entire film. Entice the readers enough to go out and actually watch the film for themselves and walk away with a new found respect for his Dudeness.

    • You know? It’s not actually, Madhaus.

      I actually assume that most of my readers have already seen these. So instead its a bit of a nostalgia trip. Giving people a chance to recall, you know?

      But thanks!

  4. I definitely gotta check this out, I’ve always wanted to because everyone had told me this is the movie to see! I think when it came out I was a little too young to see it, though my mom took me to a lot of other R rated movies. I love the review you did on it too, it seems like a movie you can get a lot of different meanings on it.

    • Oh, it totally is Sarah. Be prepared to be a little bit like “What the hell is going on?” the first time through. LOL. Its kind of a crazy flick. But you’ll love it. And its hard not to look for meaning in it.

    • Yeah, probably would creep me out too. Of course at the time the movie was made, he was still alive… It’s only a brief thing in the movie, sounds like you havent seen it, so obviously i’d HIGHLY recommend it!

  5. Good post, I like your theory. Even better movie. In college it was almost a weekly ritual to watch the movie in the dorms. I finally got out to LA a few years ago and had hoped to visit a few locations, unfortunately most are closed these days. Either way I am looking forward to watching it in high def when I finally get back home and making a myself a beverage to enjoy it with.

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