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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)