The Big Lebowski
December 31, 2004
Starring: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro, David Huddleston, Peter Stormare, Ben Gazzara, Tara Reid, Flea, Jon Polito, Sam Elliot, ,
After the darkly surreal, snow swept landscapes of the Minnesota, depicted in Fargo (1996), the Coen brothers wisely opted for a different locale and tone with bright, comedic vibe of The Big Lebowski (1998). The film was just too odd for mainstream audiences and promptly tanked at the box office. However, it found new life on video and has since become a cult film favourite, inspiring countless websites and even an annual convention known as the Lebowski Fest that has been running for three years!
Set in Los Angeles (circa 1991 during the Gulf War), this film tells a decidedly unconventional tale about a man known as The Dude. Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski (Bridges) is a laid-back kinda guy, an aging Hippie who spends his days drinking White Russians, smoking pot, and bowling with his buddies—Walter (Goodman), a bitter Vietnam vet and Donny (Buscemi), a not too-bright surfer. One day, this all changes when two thugs invade his home, rough him up, and urinate on his rug. It seems that they have The Dude confused with another Lebowski, a rich millionaire (Huddleston) whose young wife owes money all over town. Bummed at having his prized rug ruined, The Dude decides to contact the other Lebowski and in doing so becomes immersed in a very strange, convoluted plot that involves nihilists, a kidnapping, Busby Berkley dream sequences, British performance artists, and bowling.
Sound a little strange? It’s all par for the course with the Coen brothers, a clever filmmaking duo that loves tweaking existing genres to the point that they become something very different and distinctly Coenesque. This includes fully-realized characters, both major and minor, that have their own unique habits and mannerisms.
Most films do not take the time to flesh out their respective worlds or the characters that live in them but this is not the case with the Coens. The world that they create in The Big Lebowski is populated by a humourous and often bizarre collection of characters that range from an obnoxiously narcissistic bowler named Jesus (Turturro) to a feminist performance artist/painter (Moore).
You would think that all of these wildly eccentric characters would overshadow the main character, but they merely enhance the wonderful performance by Jeff Bridges, who is the heart and soul of this movie. He creates mannerisms and habits that flesh out his character perfectly. From the first time we see him, Bridges is The Dude. And even though he is a down-and-out loser, there is something undeniably likable about him, and this is due in large part to Bridges’ performance.
The Big Lebowski may not have the dramatic weight or substance of Fargo and that’s really the point. It is more a comedic odyssey or romp through a surreal landscape known as Los Angeles. The Coens have done what Robert Altman achieved in the ’70s with The Long Goodbye (1973): use the hard-boiled world of Raymond Chandler as a starting point to satirize Los Angeles culture. Like Altman’s film, The Big Lebowski dispenses with conventional narrative in favour of atmosphere, colourful characters and insanely quotable dialogue. The joy of this film is in watching the entertaining diversions, subplots and minor characters and how The Dude interacts with them all. You’re not supposed to really care about what happens to the convoluted storyline or how it is resolved. That is merely window-dressing for the Coens to showcase this highly engaging world that they’ve created.
The animated main menu that features all of the important characters is a nice touch, but there is no sound accompanying this montage and the other sub-menus are merely static artwork. This is a minor quibble but further animation would’ve been nice. I must commend Polygram for the snazzy look of the menus. The fit in rather nicely with the flashy neon decor of the bowling alley that The Dude and his buddies frequent in the film.
The Coens are not known for providing many extras with the video releases of their films so it is a pleasant surprise to see a couple included with this fine disc.
First off, there is a nice teaser trailer that is presented in its original theatrical format and features an excellent montage of the important characters from the film complete with the Kenny Rogers and the First Edition song, “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” that plays during the “Gutterballs” dream sequence.
The disc also includes an entertaining 30 minute promotional video entitled, “The Making of The Big Lebowski.” While not nearly as informative or exhaustive as the book of the same name that was released in conjunction with the film, this promo is worth watching if only to see Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, and, in particular, the interview-shy Coens talk about their film.
Lastly, there is the standard cast and filmmaker biographies/filmographies which features nothing that you couldn’t get from a press kit or the official website. Pretty standard stuff.
I daresay that The Big Lebowski is the Coen brothers’ best film to date. It is the perfect mix of their flashy style, eccentric characters, and distinctive dialogue. It is a rare comedy that can be watched over and over and never get old. The richly detailed world that is so inviting and entertaining that you want to revisit it again and again. The Dude abides.