Twenty years of the cult favorite. And it really is a cult. There's actually a Dudist religion.
Written and directed by Ethan and Joel Coen, The Big Lebowski stars Jeff Bridges as Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski, mistaken by hired goons for a millionaire also named Lebowski. On the surface, the story concerns the Dude's attempt to receive restitution for his living room rug which one of the goons soiled when they roughed him up.
The rich old guy with the same name, wheelchair-bound, takes the Dude to task for his slacker ways, but does offer the Dude gainful employ as a bagman to pay kidnappers for the return of his wife.
Incongruous combinations (a mysterious cowboy narrator waxin' rhapsodic about a hippie) and wildly eccentric characters leap out of a complex plot which is ultimately unimportant. John Goodman plays the Dude's Vietnam vet bowling partner, Walter. Steve Buscemi is Donny, another bowling partner, forever told by Walter to shut up. Julianne Moore is Maude, an avant-garde feminist artist. Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro, Peter Stormare, Tara Reid, Sam Elliott and more also all contribute something unforgettable.
"The Making of The Big Lebowski" and "How The Big Lebowski Became a Lifestyle," short documentaries free on YouTube, offer interesting insight. The Coen Brothers reveal the Dude is based on a hippie friend of theirs living in L.A. Though the filmmakers reference Raymond Chandler specifically, they never mention The Big Sleep by name.
In that film can be seen many elements appearing in The Big Lebowski, including a rich old man in a wheelchair with a job for the protagonist, a stained rug, and pornography.
Loaded with great lines--"Smokey, this is not 'Nam, this is bowling, there are rules"--and packed with fantastic music, the film seems effortlessly creative, yet ties aspects together brilliantly. The opening image of the tumbleweed, for example, which rolls like a bowling ball, or the Dude himself as he goes with the flow.
Goon to Dude with Dude's head in toilet: "Where's the money, Lebowski?"
Dude, dripping: "It's down there somewhere. Let me take another look."
According the Coen Brothers, they wrote some of the parts with the actors who played them in mind. Jeff Bridges embodies the role so perfectly, "takin' 'er easy for all us sinners," it's impossible to imagine anyone else. When the Dude has a special lady at his pad, no one can sniff the armpit of a t-shirt off the floor checked for freshness before putting it on and inquiring, "Cocktail?" like Jeff Bridges.
The Brothers excel re-imagining an existing work in an incongruous context. Lebowski does that, as does O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), which loosely sets Homer's Odyssey in the Great Depression with hilarious results. Take Miller's Crossing (1990), their hard-edged ode to Dashiell Hammett, add in the quirky, wry deadpan of Raising Arizona (1987), and you get their stoner noir masterpiece.
THE BIG LEBOWSKI
Starring Jeff Bridges,
Philip Seymour Hoffman,
Directed by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Written by Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Runtime 117 minutes
Stewart Kirby writes for
TWO RIVERS TRIBUNE