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 think The Big Lebowski has brilliant characters in it. I cant fault it at all for that. The styrline however is just average, but you know what. Brilliant characters and an average storyline still make for a great film. Ive watched this film maybe ten times since its release and never tire of it.
    The highlight for me is the ferret in the bath……cracks me up when The Dude does that high pitch scream (and who wouldnt if someone throws a ferret in your bath)

    • That IS a hysterical scene. Especially since, right before they break in on him, he’s getting high in a bathtub listening to whale songs! LOL!

      And you’re right, that scream is outrageous. :D

      As far as the plot goes, you’re completely right. If it wasnt for the characters, the plot itself would be… Lousy? Silly?

      But obviously the Coens weren’t just out to make a straightforward point A to point B story.

  2. Good review–but I never understood the feverish enthusiasm this film gets from fans. It’s actually one of the weaker Coen movies, IMO. Maybe I just don’t like things that are too eccentric, or maybe I should watch it when I’m a little high.

  3. This film is so fabulously Marxian! I first watched it because my Political Theory professor was so obsessed with it. I on the other hand thought “What is this Big Lebowski? Who is this Dude?” These were questions I desperately had to answer and I am so thrilled I did! I love The Dude so much and it helps that he is played by one of my favorite actors.

  4. I think The Big Lebowski works so well because it’s genuinely how Jeff Bridges is in real life. Just a really cool guy hanging out and occasionally getting into shananigans. This movie is absolutely hilarious.

  5. Wow, so glad I got to see your post and site through freshly pressed!

    Really appreciate the time and perspective you share, and the variety of movies you’ve reviewed.
    Can’t wait to read more, and be further inspired to get going with my own writing and reviews.

    I’ve always been strangely attracted to The Big Lebowski, and enjoy all of the Coen Bros. films…they seem to have a knack for making movies that are just so durn engaging and interesting!

    Awesome work!

    Sincerely,
    Bryan

  6. Really can’t go wrong with suggesting this movie. I joke with people who haven’t seen it that if they don’t like it we simply can’t be friends. The wife and I quote the movie almost weekly. Have you seen the “What if… William Shakespeare wrote The Big Lebowski?” Someone wrote “The Two Gentleman of Lebowski.”

    The Knave abideth!

    • I have SEEN it. I’ve never read it though. Yeah, I saw it out there… it is hysterical.

      Kind of the point of this series I’m running. Obviously not that I can’t be friends with people who haven’t seen them, LOL. But I started with the question – what movies do you like, JUDGE people if they tell you they’ve never seen them? If you haven’t seen Movie X, am I downgrading my opinion of you as a movie fan? And then I go from there. :D

      Thanks for stopping by Cleveland!

  7. This is probably my favorite movie! I love all the little details and hidden humor that can pass you by if it’s the first time you’ve watched it. Its not for everyone and it definitely requires a certain type of humor but once you’ve caught onto the (off)beatness its addicting. :-)

    • It totally, 100% for SURE is one of those movies where you’re going to pick up something new EVERY time you watch it. Even when I watched it to write this piece – for like the tenth time – I was picking up on things I’d never noticed!

  8. I dunno, “Lebowski” always seemed like a lesser effort by the Coens. Out of their comedies, I prefer “Raising Arizona” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

    Recently read an article where Steve Buscemi said he almost passed on his role and had to be coaxed into playing it. He now gets asked to attend revivals because “lebowski” has added to his professional cachet.

    • Oh! I dont know about “lesser effort”! I dont know about that…

      But the other two are good too. I definitely like “O Brother” QUITE a bit.

      I’m sure Buscemi could make my annual income for the rest of his life by doing nothing but autographing photos of him as Donnie. LOL

  9. Pingback: The Dude « eng104mpanka

  10. I LOVE THIS MOVIE.

    also, in my experience, it’s a polar movie. People either love it or hate it. I enjoy things that inspire strong responses in people, even if I disagree with half of those responses.

    • Yeah, I would definitely agree with your assessment of it being polarizing.

      I suspect its because if you connect with the eccentricities, you’re going to feel very attached to it… it’s so quirky you’ll have to love it, yet if you can’t connect with it it will just seem strange. Good point!

  11. On my “to- watch” list… I like the Coen’s and I have heard so many good things about this movie, so it is just a matter of time. I like your blog… Im just starting to get more hits too for my review blog. Keep up the good work!

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