Apparently The Big Lebowski wasn’t anything special when the Coen Brothers drafted it. Just a routine little film with a main character very loosely based on a film producer that they used to know. To this day they’re still a little perplexed at the massive success the film has had, becoming a cult phenomenon and a serious contender for the mantle of “Best Coen Brothers Film”. In a way, that’s almost perfectly suited to the kind of film this is. It’s a lot of hubbub over a film clearly meant to be very small, much like the film itself is a very big story wrapped around a very ‘small’ character, so to speak. It’s always reassuring to know that The Dude abides.
Part of the movie’s magic is the inherent contrast at its core. Despite the seedier aspects and the post-modern trappings, The Big Lebowski is fundamentally an old-fashioned comedy of errors. Everything that happens on screen is a direct result of any number of embarrassing miscalculations by any number of character, brought about by the confusion between The Dude and The ‘Big’ Lebowski and a mishap involving a rug which “really tied the room together”. Despite the porn and the profanity, the Coen Brothers have tilted their hats towards the classic school of comedy which tells us that nobody knows anything and the joy of watching any number of characters struggle with situations out of their depth (but which they can’t seem to identify as such).
There hasn’t been a comedy quite like it, which is oddly refreshing. It’s nice that the film didn’t acheive enough immediate success to spark a subgenre of subpar imitators, as there’s really no point attempting to imitate the Coen Brothers. You may as well attempt to photocopy a sound.
Even ignoring the quirky yet classical nature of the comedy, the simple fact is that the film is stunningly well put together in every respect. Every cast member is pitch perfect. The direction is sublime. The “Gutterballs” dream sequence, choreographed to Kenny Rogers, may just be one of my favourite film sequences ever. As in, in the history of the world. It’s damn iconic, even to those who haven’t seen the film. And, if you haven’t seen the film, see it now.
This is the movie that Jeff Bridges deserved his Oscar for. The Dude is an absolutely wonderful creation – an eternal drifter. The ultimate passive protagonist. The movie actively constructs itself around him, despite his best efforts. He just wants to bowl a bit. And maybe smoke some joints. And yet life seems unwilling to let him be. Still, The Dude is no vulgar stoner. Even if his boasts to Maude are nothing but idol pillow talk, The Dude is a man of great talent and intelligence – sophisticated and cultured (though he doesn’t like the Eagles). And wit. After his head is shoved down the toilet by a grunt asking “Where’s the money Lebowski?”, he replies “I think it’s down there, just let me take another look”. There’s a zen about him. One senses he could sit at a bar drinking with Yoda if he so desired – though he doesn’t talk with poor syntax, he does borrow the vast majority of his dialogue from other characters. He’s just a wanderer, willing to go where life takes him – almost a silent philosopher. “The Dude abides.” He certainly does.
The supporting cast is excellent, featuring everyone from Tara Reid to Philip Seymour Hoffman to Julianne Moore. Of particular note is the pistol-weilding best friend Walter, played superbly by John Goodman. He’s the kind of guy we’ve all met at some point, loud-mouthed and full of hastily-conceived ideas, a guy who is nowhere near as tough or experienced as he lets on. A man who will draw a gun at a bowling alley – unless you mark it ‘an eight’. Goodman hasn’t been better on the big screen.
I think, like the opening narrator, I’ve rambled enough. The film is a classic. Easily the best comedy of the nineties. One of the most quotable movies ever made. There’s nothing more to say.