Let’s face it: if you are on the internet at all, you are at least somewhat familiar with this film. This film is now less a film, but more a phenomenon. The character of The Dude has transcended his roots as a film protagonist and has become an icon that is almost omnipresent on the internet. The film’s quotes are used so widely that we often forget their origin. The Big Lebowski is almost like a Star Wars for the internet era: a film so large in scope that everyone knows what happens even if they’ve never seen it. This should not discount the genius of this film so expertly crafted by the Coen Brothers following their success with Fargo.
The Dude, played by Jeff Bridges, is a 90’s slacker, a holdout of the 70’s hippie movement, a stoner with no job who bowls, smokes weed, and drinks White Russians constantly. When his real name, Jeff Lebowski, is confused with that of a rich man with the same name, two loan sharks piss on his rug, which “really tied the room together.” Looking for payment from the rich Lebowski, he becomes the middle-man in an overly-complicated kidnapping case.
The humor in the film comes from the lack of care that goes into the main “plot”. The main plot is the kidnapping, but most of the film follows The Dude, bowling with his friends Walter (John Goodman) and Donny (Steve Buscemi), and attempting to profit from the kidnapping. Walter in particular seems to want to show defiance to Lebowski, despite not having met him. The film actually plays out less like a noir-inspired film and more like a shaggy dog story: a story which ends with an anti-climax in the story, a story with a large build-up and many false turns which ends with “wait, where was I?”
The film, however, is not a shaggy dog story in that regard. This is, primarily, a stoner comedy. As a comedy, everything is set up well and the pay off is always worth it. Yes, the ending seems to come out of nowhere, but it was foreshadowed and set up to make you laugh the most. This is helped by ALL OF THE CHARACTERS. Colorful is a common descriptor of the cast of characters that occupy the film. Colorful is a term that undersells the pure surreal weirdness of this film. The Coens have always been successful in showing the stupidity of criminals and bad people, but never before have they focused so much on showing how far they can go.
A film with a weird story that’s a comedy seems like an unlikely fit for the next “Star Wars-esque Hit”, but it works. The spectacle of the film just consumes the viewer, leading to a state of viewing in which everything makes sense in the most confusing way possible. It is how we got the internet culture we have (that is a mixed blessing), but it is so ingrained into our culture that it seems hard to imagine a world without The Dude.
Directed by the Coen Brothers (Joel and Ethan Coen)
Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, John Turturro, Sam Elliott