The Dude Abides: An Appreciation of The Big Lebowski
The Big Lebowski (1998) went from sleeper hit to a full fledged cult classic spawning all kinds of fan clubs and even a Lebowski Fest held every year where attendees come dressed as their favorite characters. It is one of my personal favorite films of the 90s. It has an offbeat quality that makes it a unique gem even in the Coen Brothers’ eclectic filmography.
As the film opens we get a voiceover by “The Stranger” (Sam Elliot) the narrator of this offbeat tale. We then meet Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), an unemployed ex-surfer/refugee from the 70s. That aside, The Dude is “the man for his time and place, yep, sometimes there’s a man….”. His current mode of living consists of bowling, smoking pot and drinking “caucasians” aka “White Russians” (Vodka, Kahlua and half and half). When The Dude gets home from the supermarket he is startled by two intruders that throw him into the bathroom and stuff his head in the toilet. These two thugs demand the money owed to their boss Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara). The Dude explains that he is not the Lebowski they are looking for, and he doesn’t have a wife named Bunny either. One of the thugs, Woo, (who is a chinaman or Asian-American, which is the preferred nemenclature) decides to pee on The Dude’s favorite valued rug, the one that really “ties the room together”.
At the bowling alley, his favorite spot, The Dude explains his problem to his best pal Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) an eccentric Vietnam veteran and their unappreciated, kind friend Donny (Steve Buscemi). Whenever Donny tries to find out what’s going on, he is constantly berated and yelled at by Walter. This becomes a running joke throughout the film. The Dude finds out after arguing with Walter awhile that there’s in fact another Jeffrey Lebowski in town who is a millionaire. The Dude then decides to pay a visit to “The Big Lebowski” (David Huddleston) to see if he can get a new rug for his apartment. When he arrives he meets The Big Lebowski’s cackling assistant Brandt (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). The Dude looks at all of The Big Lebowski’s awards and pictures he’s taken over the years with famous people like Nancy Reagan and Charlton Heston and is impressed (watch for a special TIME Magazine Man of The Year award in which The Dude sees his reflection).
The Dude finally meets The Big Lebowski who happens to be a crippled man that has a motorized wheelchair. We find out that he lost his legs fighting in Korea as he explains that “some chinaman took them from him, but he still was able to go out and achieve anyway!” The Dude explains that he just wants to be compensated for his valued peed on rug, but The Big Lebowski yells at him, telling him that he cannot be held responsible for every rug that gets “micterated upon in the city”. When The Big Lebowski finds out that The Dude is unemployed he tells him to get a job and screams that “THE BUMS WILL ALWAYS LOSE!”. The Dude has had enough and leaves as The Big Lebowski rants on. When Brandt asks him how his meeting went, The Dude states that The Big Lebowski said he could take any rug in the house. On the way out The Dude meets The Big Lebowski’s young trophy wife Bunny (Tara Reid) who offers him a BJ for some money. The Dude comically retorts he’s going to go “find a cash machine”.
With a new stolen rug, The Dude seems to be all set, that is until he’s chilling out in his apartment and some strangers punch him in the face, knocking him out cold. This leads to a weird psychedelic sequence of The Dude flying over the city of Los Angeles where he sees a woman in the distance flying away on his rug. When The Dude awakes, his new rug is gone and he gets a call from Brandt, looking to meet him because of an emergency. The Dude arrives at The Big Lebowski’s home and finds out from The Big Lebowski and Brandt that Bunny has been kidnapped and the ransom is a million dollars. They want him to be the bag man after which he’ll be compensated. The Dude reluctantly agrees.
The Dude begins to get in over his head when Walter comes along on the ransom drop. Walter hatches a plan to switch the money with his “dirty undies, the soiled whites”. The Dude gets a call from the kidnappers and asks them where they want him to drop the money off. Only Walter prematurely tosses the bag of dirty undies out the window and jumps out of the car with a loaded Uzi because he’s not “going naked!”. The Uzi hits the pavement and goes off, blowing a hole in The Dude’s car tire. He then loses control and hits a telephone pole. The kidnappers take off from the drop point with the bag of undies, leaving The Dude panicking since he still has the real money.
Throughout the story we meet an array of zany characters including a pederast bowler with an attitude the size of Mexico named Jesus Quintana (John Turturro) who taunts The Dude and Walter, The Big Lebowski’s beautiful daughter Maude (Julianne Moore) an eccentric ‘feminine themed’ artist who takes a liking to The Dude. We also encounter the trio of German kidnappers, lead by Uli (Peter Stormare) who used to be in an 80s German techno-pop group called Autobahn.
The Big Lebowski gives viewers a trippy, hysterically funny, modern Raymond Chandler style crime story but instead of Phillip Marlowe, the Coens substituted a stoned out hippie as the main protagonist. It’s a film that is more about the quirky characters and set pieces than the actual plot line anyway.