“The Stranger: How have things been going?
The Dude: Well, you know, strikes and gutters, ups and downs.”
“Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”
A tumbleweed blows through the SoCal desert and enters the City of Angels as it moves along a busy highway. Eventually, the circular free-roaming bush happens upon the beach and rolls toward the ocean.
We are introduced to The Dude, Jeff Lebowski (the best Jeff Bridges’ performance ever) who is a weed smoking slacker, consumer of White Russians and by nightfall an avid bowler. His wardrobe consists of consignment sale shirts, Bermuda shorts, flip-flops and a tan (ish) bathrobe while sporting a shaggy goatee. The Coen Bros reportedly based the character of The Dude on Jeff Dowd, a freelance publicist who was a key player in helping them launch their first film “Blood Simple”. If there truly is a person like The Dude in real life, this is somebody to know.
“The Big Lebowski” is, shall we say, the least plotted of all the Coen Bros movies. The Dude meets the Big Lebowski (David Huddleston) who is confined to a wheelchair and married to Bunny (Tara Reid) after two goons attack The Dude in his house. They think the Dude is the Big Lebowski and they are attempting to collect money for a porn magnate named Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara) as Bunny owes them a lot of cash. Of course, the goons realize they have the wrong Lebowski and piss on his rug on the way out. The desecration of the rug makes The Dude very angry as it “tied the room together”. Visiting the other Lebowski, The Dude demands compensation for his rug. The eccentric millionaire declines so The Dude steals a rug from him. The wealthy Lebowski soon informs The Dude that his wife Bunny has been kidnapped and enlists him and his friend, Walter Sobchak (Coen regular John Goodman), to help get her back.
So yeah, the plot revolves around The Dude being mad about his rug being urinated on that sets everything else into motion. The storyline here is clearly an after thought as it is simply used as a device to introduce these rather colorful characters and strange situations. Normally, I would not like a movie with such a shoe-string and bizarre plot line but this is very much an exception. There is a brilliance to “The Big Lebowski” and a good degree of hilarity (this is easily their funniest movie since “Raising Arizona”).
Other than The Dude, his good friend Walter is a Vietnam war veteran with a hair-trigger temper (people always talk about Bridges’ performance but forget about how amazing Goodman is in this film), and Donny (Steve Buscemi fresh off getting put in the Fargo wood chipper) who is never really allowed to finish a complete sentence when bowling with his buddies. There is also millionaire Lebowski’s daughter, Maude (Julianne Moore) who fastens herself to an overhead harness and zooms across of the ceiling of a building in order to paint, German nihilists (including actor Peter Stormare who put Buscemi in the wood chipper in Fargo), a young Philip Seymour Hoffman as Brandt (an assistant for Big Lebowski), and a character named Jesus (John Turturro) who is seen at the bowling alley.
The movie also contains memorable sequences such as The Dude flying north over Los Angeles in a dream, the aforementioned Maude painting in her studio while flying across the room on her harness, and Walter hitting a German nihilist in the midsection with his bowling ball during a climatic fight. Hell, the Coens even have another dream sequence where The Dude is trapped on the bowling ball conveyor track as the giant ball rolls toward him (reminds me of the famous opening sequence of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” kind of). The Dude goes into the finger hole of the bowling ball and the audience experiences a point-of-view shot from inside the bowling ball (looking out the finger hole) as it rolls down the lane.
Yes, this film is insane and that is a beautiful thing. Unexpected with all the hilarity is that “The Big Lebowski” also has more contemplative views on life. These are provided by the mysterious stranger (who also narrates) played by Sam Elliott who at the end looks directly into the camera for the final monologue. Glimpses of what will happen to the characters are revealed and the Stranger says that he will see us soon. “I guess that’s the way the whole durned human comedy keeps perpetuatin’ itself down through the generations. Westward the wagons, across the sands of time until we – ah, look at me. I’m ramblin’ again.” An interesting angle on spirituality? Does the Stranger weirdly represent a sort of contemporary western frontier? Who knows.
The Dude abides.
Lester Lauding Level: 4 (out of 5)
Ranking of Coen Bros Movie (so far):
Fargo (review here)
The Big Lebowski
Miller’s Crossing (review here)
The Hudsucker Proxy (review here)
Raising Arizona (review here)
Blood Simple (review here)
Barton Fink (Review here)