Directed by: Joel Coen
Written by: Joel & Ethan Coen
Starring: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, David Huddleston
Life throws some of us through a random series of events we never get asked to be a part of. Whether it be someone bumping into us in the street asking for help or assisting a child get back to their parents after losing them. It’s all completely random, but we have to make the most out of that situation, which is where the Dude finds himself as he gets involved in a kidnapping case, extortion, nihilism, and spiteful urination.
The Dude (Jeff Bridges) lives a simple life of bowling with his friends and enjoying himself a White Russian cocktail regularly. He takes life one day at a time without any real direction or purpose. It all changed when a group of men ransacks his house believing him to be another person who shares his legal last name, “Lebowski.” Once he learns more about what occurred, he gets pulled into a game of self-interest.
One can never really prepare themselves for the story of The Big Lebowski on their first viewing. It’s a story so aimless even with it having a relatively easy plot to follow. This directionless concept comes from the character we follow and how his ambitions lie far lower than practically everyone else in the story. His goals are simple, just as his life, and everyone else seemingly wants more. It certainly left me befuddled the first time I watched it and it might do the same to you, but after my second viewing, it all clicked.
The Big Lebowski puts us in the place and mindset of the Dude in the way he carries out his life. He represents a stoner and believes life to be not very serious. Everyone worries about the minute details in life, including the people in his bowling league. Walter (John Goodman), in particular, has a level of self-seriousness that’s the polar opposite of the Dude, even getting to the point of threatening to shoot a man from bowling incorrectly. The Dude takes everything in stride, which then makes all of the events that occur in the film all the more hilarious. It begins with him getting beat up in his own house with men claiming he owes them money. After making it abundantly clear that they have the wrong man, they then urinate on his rug. That gets Walter to convince him to go to the man he was mistaken for and ask for compensation for the damages.
The Dude gets pulled into these situations because of others compelling him to do so. Only then does he visit the very rich Lebowski and gets sucked into the family drama happening. He’s a passive protagonist that has everything happen to him, which would generally indicate a weak story, but it’s entirely the point of this film. It’s why Jeff Bridges was such perfect casting for the Dude. An actor who’s made his mark with more serious roles, but this turn as the Dude shifts the storytelling paradigm for him as an actor and the narrative structure of the feature. As an audience, we just absorb everything happening with the Dude, as he faces off with nihilists, a poor millionaire with a vengeful daughter, and an over the top friend in Walter.
Rounding out the rest of the cast are some Coen Brothers regulars that have plenty of fun with the material presented to them. There’s Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro among others. Each of them had their standout moments in the film, whether it be the swinging of Moore’s Maude or the complete cockiness and absurdist humor of Turturro’s Jesus Quintana. Philip Seymour Hoffman, however, demonstrates why he’s one of the best to ever do it with his small role as Brandt. That pure politeness and kindness he tries to provide throughout the trying times of the film are simply hilarious, especially when thinking of his other more shouty roles.
This feature is yet another example of the brilliance of the Coen Brothers. The Big Lebowski sits in between Fargo and O Brother Where Art Thou?, which all seem like such different films despite their comedic similarities. It presents a beautiful trifecta in the directing duo’s ability to tell stories in a variety of places, each succeeding in their own ways. With this film, in particular, they create an iconic stoner movie that actually has some substance within it about life and nihilistic viewpoints. In that way, they’re not very subtle when a group of men the Dude confronts is called “The Nihilists.” These two can literally take on any genre and I will be there to experience what kind of twist or idea they meld into it.
It may take more than one try to fully enjoy The Big Lebowski but the ideas it peddles make it such an entertaining and comedic film. Everything happens in stride and having the same mindset as the Dude through all of it shows you just how ridiculous life can be at times. The film is endlessly quotable from “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man” to “This is not ‘Nam. This is bowling. There are rules.” The Dude is the only one in the story who lives his truth all the way through the story, which says plenty about all of the other characters. Join in, grab a White Russian cocktail, and share the vibes of this timeless trip to the alley.