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Film Review: The Big Lebowski

Updated on December 29, 2015

Background

In 1998, Joel and Ethan Coen released The Big Lebowski, directed by Joel, produced by Ethan and written by both. Starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, David Huddleston, Julianne Moore, Tara Reid, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Elliott, Ben Gazzara, Peter Stormare, Torsten Voges, Flea, John Turturro, and Jon Polito, the film grossed $46.2 million at the box office. Though the film was not nominated for any awards, it has become a cult favorite, inspiring a religion known as Dudeism and an annual festival called Lebowski Fest. Entertainment Weekly ranked it eight on the list of Funniest Movies of the Past 25 Years and Empire magazine ranked the characters of Walter and the Dude as 37 and 10 in The 100 Greatest Movie Characters Poll.

Synopsis

Lazy slacker Jeffrey Lebowski prefers to be known as The Dude and is merely content to slide through life with his bowling league as life’s only care. But one night, a pair of thugs mistake him for a millionaire also named Jeffrey Lebowski, causing The Dude to go to the big Lebowski seeking compensation for a soiled rug. The millionaire denies The Dude compensation and recruits him to help in negotiations for his kidnapped wife, Bunny.

Review

An affectionate parody of the film noir genre, The Big Lebowski is a hilarious film that’s both very well done and entertaining. It perfectly captures the style of film it’s aiming to make fun of, putting The Dude in the middle of so many different plots and schemes when all the man wanted was his rug back. Further, it never breaks away from the noir aspect, as The Dude is in every scene in the film. This includes the time in the diner with the nihilists. The focus may be on them and the fact that the toe the big Lebowski receives isn’t Bunny’s, but The Dude still has a presence as Walter’s van is in the background. However, the film also subverts a common concept found in noir (or any type of film in general) with Donny’s death as it’s for reasons unimportant to the plot.

Interestingly, for a story that really kicks off because a lazy stoner just wanted compensation for a soiled rug, the film’s plot is pretty extensive with a number of different plots stemming from the action of one man soiling a rug. What’s more is that had The Dude not been mistaken for the millionaire, he would not have stumbled onto the struggle between Maude and the big Lebowski’s embezzlement, Maude’s quest to find a sperm donor, Jackie Treehorn and his dispute with Bunny or Da Fino, the guy hired by Bunny’s family to find her. A lot of the film’s well-timed humor comes from the fact that The Dude really is just a guy who wants to be left alone and go bowling, but has been caught up in everything. It cleverly makes it so that The Dude really isn’t the hero at all, just a guy who may be nice, but doesn’t want to be involved. However, despite that, he is the hero of his own story: the story of his bowling league and his team’s struggle against the Jesus. Ironically, the audience never gets to see how that transpires. Da Fino is also the main character of his own story, making it hilariously feel like the plot of another film has coincided with this one. Again, the audience ironically does not get to see how that one turns out as well.

But really, this film is all about its characters who all seem to think they’re in a different kind of movie. The Dude thinks he’s in some kind of gigantic mystery where he keeps uncovering all these clues and expects to stumble into something big. He doesn’t. The narrator, played by Sam Elliot, believes the film to be a western. It isn’t. Meanwhile, it seems like Walter thinks he’s in a Vietnam war drama detailing the main character’s struggle to settle back into society, the big Lebowski, Maude, Treehorn and Da Fino believe they’re in a film noir played straight rather than a parody, Bunny desperately wants it to be a pornographic film, the nihilists think they’re being directed by someone like Frank Miller or Quentin Tarantino and are in a crime thriller where they’re the protagonists and the Jesus is under the impression that he’s in a sports film about bowling and he’s just the opposition. In all of this, Donny just happens to be a normal guy who thinks he’s living a normal life.

Furthermore, all these character provide some of the film’s humor with their hypocrisy. Take Maude, who disapproves of sex without love and sleeps with The Dude for the sole reason of getting pregnant. There’s also the nihilists who really aren’t as they say they believe in nothing, but complain about the unfairness of not getting any money. The Dude is also hypocritical, seeing as he continually says he doesn’t care about what’s going on and just wants his rug back. However, he does have his rug. What he really wants is one that hasn’t been soiled.

5 stars for The Big Lebowski

the postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent WNI's positions, strategies or opinions.

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