It all starts with the destruction of a rug that really tied the room together. Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) suffers a break in at his Los Angeles apartment in which his living room rug is urinated on and the rest of his place is trashed. This and the rest of the story that is about to unfold is a simple case of misidentification.
The two thugs who break in to harass The Dude by shoving his head in his own toilet are looking for another Jeffrey Lebowski. The other Jefferey Lebowski is a wealthy philanthropist who’s wife owes money to Ben Gazzara who plays a known pornographer named Jackie Treehorn(a stand in for Hugh Hefner). The Dude is a long haired, fully bearded, free loading hippie right out of the 1960’s who we could assume has been in a drug induced haze for thirty years. His overall relaxed demeanor seems to make him a target as if he is just now waking up to the cruel realities of the world he inhabits. The Big Lebowski relegated to a wheelchair due to losing his legs in the Korean war rebuffs The Dude when he visits him to replace the micturated upon rug. A young Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays the Big Lebowski’s aide and lackey named Brandt, guffawing in an awkward and sleazy manner throughout The Dude’s time at the Lebowski estate. Hoffman is still pretty early in his career here and perfectly plays Brandt with bemused servitude, dutifully playing host.
David Huddleston plays The Big Lebowski and has a wonderful back and forth with Bridges when denying he’ll replace his rug. Finishing their exchange with the memorable “Your revolution is over, Mr. Lebowski. Condolences. The bums lost. My advice is to do what your parents did; get a job, sir. The bums will always lose. Do you hear me, Lebowski?” Shouting The Dude out of the room, The Dude proceeds to tell Brandt he’s ok to take any rug in the house.
The Big Lebowski is a film loosely based on Raymond Chandler’s classic noir story The Big Sleep. A book that has been adapted twice and completely retold by The Coen Brothers infusing it with a modern comedic spin and large personalities and characters. Walter (John Goodman) and Donny (Steve Buscemi) are The Dude’s bowling teammates who frequent the story’s landscape moving in and out of focus. John Goodman gives one of the most unexpectedly hilarious and potent performances completely embodying his character’s flawed world view and victim mentality. A veteran of the Vietnam war, Walter is a loud, verbose, animated, and opinionated individual who always seems to be calling out injustices that he runs into every day. These range from discharging a firearm during bowling league play to the interrogation of a teenager who might know where a missing briefcase is.
Walter is a character with little to no self awareness and this is the most amusing aspect to Goodman’s performance, unleashing the talented actor to say some of the most patently absurd things with genuine anger and outrage. Buscemi’s Donny is the polar opposite, he’s quiet and meek and sticks mostly to bowling. Hilariously though, Donny is the target for Walter’s off the cuff insults and remarks as they’re both learning of the predicament The Dude finds himself in. The plot is purposefully convoluted but wonderfully wacky and filled with memorable characters and performances.
The Dude ends up being tasked with delivering the ransom money for the kidnapped wife of The Big Lebowski, he fails to do this as Walter winds up intervening to disastrous results. The Dude hounded by the ringing mobile phone provided to him by The Big Lebowski, ignores it, unsure of what to do. Returning to his car, he finds it stolen, the money gone with the car. Once his car is recovered by the police, he’s able to track down a teenager named Larry Sellers who’s book report was crumpled under the driver seat. In confronting Larry, The Dude brings Walter to apply more pressure and hopefully retrieve the money.
What follows is a scene that never fails to make me double over with laughter until I’m crying to an almost hysteric level. Walter at his wits end heads outside with a baseball bat, ready to bust up the new Corvette he sees sitting on the street. All of this as he keeps repeating the line while shouting: “This is what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass!!” Walter proceeds to smash the windshield and body of the expensive sports car when a man only in his underwear comes running out to yell at Walter. It’s at this point that we realize that Larry has not used any of the money and for certain isn’t the owner of the car. To be so openly wrong, spew hatred and malice, and not have any clue as to what is actually going on so perfectly captures how lost Walter really is. In just reflecting on the film, The Big Lebowski expertly weaves characters and circumstance with one another, meeting over a dozen people who’s functions and purposes float around the surface of the narrative.
Sam Elliot gives the narration to The Big Lebowski in the begining and end of the film. The Stranger as he’s called is a watchful patron at the bowling alley bar, who’s just looking for that good ol’ sarsaparilla. Elliot makes the most of his screentime, fitting the physical representation of the aging Cowboy, ready to hang up his spurs. Maude Lebowski(Julianne Moore) doesn’t believe her step mother has been kidnapped, she’s an eccentric artist who specializes in the female form. Moore wonderfully portrays Maude with a dry, flat, and pretentious articulation of her words and certainly fills out an artistic “type” that doesn’t concern herself with the material world. She has weird artist friends, provides The Dude with doubt and insight into her Father and the kidnapping, and ultimately seeks something from The Dude.
Everyone wants something and are all trying to manipulate The Dude in trying to get it. The Big Lebowski is a film that is a constantly evolving comedy mystery that culminates in a heartfelt ending that leaves us with a feeling that despite our troubles life goes on. The Dude is a ragged, out of touch, oblivious, stoner who lives a simple life, he doesn’t want too much, and he doesn’t possess the materialistic nature most Americans are enamored with. The Big Lebowski had been my absolute favorite Coen Brothers movie until No Country For Old Men eclipsed it back in 2007, but it still makes me laugh, still makes me feel, and floors me with it’s genuine great writing and characters.