The Big Lebowski (1998)
No, Walter, it did not look like Larry was about to crack.
A former author of the Port Huron Statement and original member of the Seattle Seven, Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) becomes wrapped up in a case of mistaken identity when two thugs (one a Chinaman, though that’s not the issue here) break into his apartment looking for money owed by his “trophy wife.” Unfortunately, The Dude isn’t married, and when the thugs realize their mistake and vindictively soil his valued rug, The Dude, along with his bowling buddies Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) and Donny Kerabatsos (Steve Buscemi), are drawn into a mysterious course of events involving coitus, an amputated toe with nail polish, German nihilists, an amphibious rodent, and the son of the legendary Arthur Digby Sellers (who’s not exactly a lightweight), though all The Dude ever wanted was his rug back.
Why We Love It
I had originally intended to do a different movie this week, but, after leaving myself open to a “drive-by quoting” a few days ago when asking around about job opportunities, I decided that it was indeed time to give The Big Lebowski its due recognition in the Movies We Love spotlight (And, in case you are wondering, I inquired via Twitterbook about any leads on jobs in St. Louis, to which a friend informed me that he had to check with the boys down at the crime lab, and not only did he believe they had assigned four new detectives to the case, but there was also a high possibility they were now being required to work in shifts). Like most movies that will be featured here, I have a long history with The Big Lebowski. I remember a friend in high school turned to me in the locker room and declared that he would do unspeakable things to me for “a thousand dollars.” Needless to say, he successfully scrambled to stop me from dropping my shorts and gave his declaration of man-love a little context. The next day, I went out and rented The Big Lebowski, and here I sit, writing about one of my all-time favorite movies and feeling reassured that I no longer keep in contact with a guy that I almost exposed myself to. Thankfully, he was older than eight.
As with all Coen Brothers films, The Big Lebowski is very well-written, with memorable characters, great dialogue, and a keen eye for setting and environment. With Los Angeles during the early 1990’s (around the time of our conflict with Saddam and the Iraqis) as our background, we follow a few days in the life of our lovable antihero as he tries to unravel the complexities that begin to invade the comfortable world he has created around him. There are many things that make The Dude and his story so great, but one thing that gets me every time is how the pieces of the mystery fall into place as the story progresses without any real help from The Dude or his friends. Players in this game seek him out, mostly to The Dude’s annoyance, and only through a series of accidents is the mystery finally solved. But, really, solving or even understanding the mystery isn’t important in the scheme of things, and what the Coen Brothers really aim to showcase is the characters themselves. Think about how little screen time characters like Brandt (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), Jesus Quintana (John Turturro), and Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara) get, but how memorable their contributions are to one’s memory of the film. What’s important here is how the characters interact with each other and react to the events in the story, not the actual story itself. One way they do this, and what I truly believe is the most important thing in this film, is an almost obsessive attention to the little details that make The Dude’s world come alive.
If I tried to bring your attention to all the wonderful little nuanced gestures, random bits of dialogue, and well-placed props, not only would this thing probably end up being about five hundred thousand words, but I would also set myself up for a barrage of emails and angry comments questioning my true love of this film because I didn’t mention “this” or didn’t notice “that.” Needless to say, there are a ton of things to find, and I’ve seen this film probably around a hundred times, and am still finding new things upon close viewings that I didn’t catch before (which may be because I tend to have so few close viewings of The Big Lebowski that don’t involve an over-consumption of White Russians). It was only three or four viewings ago that I noticed the police officer in The Dude’s apartment picking up a pipe shaped like a bowling pin and poking around in an ashtray on the coffee table. I think we can all guess what kind of ashes those were. Or a couple of years ago when I just caught, for the first time, The Dude’s line when he is looking down at the picture of the Knutsen family farm: “How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm once they’ve seen Karl Hungus?” And this movie is full of small things that will really reward the observant viewer. Hell, when I watched The Big Lebowski again last night for this article, I caught two new things. I’ll give you guys a few hints, as an incentive to watch this movie again right now. First, when The Dude comes home to a ransacked house, look to the far left of the screen and check out what’s lodged in the TV. And, second, after Brandt hands The Dude the ransom fax, watch Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s body language. Actually, watch his body language throughout the entire film, especially in scenes where he’s not supposed to be the focus of attention. And, if you want a real treat, I highly recommend watching The Big Lebowski again with the subtitles on. No matter how many times you’ve seen it, I guarantee you’ll pick up something said in passing, in the background, or mumbled as a character leaves or enters a scene that is absolutely hilarious.
But, really, one of the greatest things about The Big Lebowski is the culture that surrounds it. As any film lover will tell you (and myself included), there is nothing quite like the horror of seeing a good movie being inevitably ruined by its overzealous fans as it passes out of the mainstream. We’ve all seen it. I love “The Chappelle Show” as much as the next dude in his mid-twenties, but, for fucksake, it’s all I can do to keep from strong-armin’ a ho when I hear someone yell, “I’m Rick James, bitch!” The same things happened with Napoleon Dynamite, Borat, and pretty much all of Will Ferrell’s movies, to name a few. So, why then, eleven years after its release, do I still quote and openly welcome quoting from friends and strangers of The Big Lebowski? Honestly, I’m not really sure why quotes from TBL will automatically distinguish someone I don’t know as someone I suddenly have a vested interest in, but it seems to be that way everywhere, and not just in my group of friends. I’m sure there are people out there who hate quotes from The Big Lebowski as much as any other film, but I will go ahead and say they are probably fascists and should be ignored (and stay away from their beach communities, especially if you have a jerkoff face or name). And it’s not just the quoting. If you haven’t been invited to a round of bowling with Creedence blaring over the speakers or a screening of the film with a crucial emphasis on White Russians, then not only do you probably not have any friends, but the Germans might very well be coming to cut your dick off. But don’t be scared off, it’s really a loving culture, ready to embrace any new lover of the film; just as long as you give a shit about the rules (I could really go all night!). And if that’s not enough, fans of The Big Lebowski even have their own festival. Let me go on the record and say that I am fucking there as soon as there is one remotely close to where I live. I also really want the “Abide” shirt. Say what you want, but that thing is epic.
Moment We Fell In Love
Man, how do I choose one moment that really stands out above the rest? It’s a tough job, because any scene could be noted, and has, by all the people whom I know as fans of the film. There are a few scenes that tend to draw a lot of votes, such as the first scene in the bowling alley, the scene in the Big Lebowski’s office, Jesus Quintana’s introduction, or the fight with the nihilists, but I’ve literally heard damn near every scene cited as a personal favorite by someone. Maybe I’ve never really thought of this before, but this seems to be one of the few movies I can think of that suffers from this sort of interesting quality. I guess if I had to narrow it down, I would say the closing scene of the introduction, right before credits. There is just something about the way The Dude looks sitting on the toilet, soaking wet and hair dripping on the floor, as he stares at the camera through his shades and seems to be thinking, “Fuck, man.” Every time I watch it, this shot earns a big-ass grin as I think about just what’s in store for The Dude.
I guess it’s confession time. To be honest, I didn’t love this film the first time I saw it. Liked it, but didn’t love it. It took maybe around three to four viewings before it finally clicked, and I went, “Holy shit, why didn’t I realize before how much this movie rocks?” I think the answer lies in my point earlier about the little details that make up this story. On a first, second, or even third viewing, it’s easy to miss those things. If you stripped The Big Lebowski of all the little things, like attention to detail in the environment, nuanced characters, and the Coen Brothers’ great dialogue, then you’ve stripped away the charm of this movie and are really left with few things worth noting. But if you are willing to give The Big Lebowski a chance, over multiple viewings, and invest a little thought in it, I promise that you won’t be disappointed. The magic in this film really lies in the details, and though it may be easy to enjoy it at face value, there is just so much more to appreciate if one will pay a little attention. So don your favorite robe, mix yourself one hell of a Caucasian, do a J, and get ready to join The Dude on a mystical adventure through the streets of Los Angeles. But be careful, because I will not abide another toe.
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