Bottom Line: A cult classic – definitely, man.
Directed by: Joel Coen
Starring: David Huddleston, Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, John Turturro, Julianne Moore, Mark Pellegrino Philip Moon, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Steve Buscemi, Tara Reid
Sometimes great minds do think alike. Brothers Joel and Ethan Coen can be defined by absolutely nothing but pure brilliance. By just scratching the surface in an analysis of their creative methods, we discover that the two of them are responsible for Fargo, a film that disproved anybody and everybody who ever doubted the feasibility of a comedic thriller; O Brother, Where Art Thou?, an even more anomalous picture that twisted the plot from Homer’s solemn epic poem The Odyssey, into an absurd, Southernized, Great Depression-set escapade; and True Grit, one of very few remakes that is applauded far more than the original 1969 work, perhaps due to an adventurous wit John Wayne could never have dreamed of delivering. I dare say that of what I’ve seen out of their filmography, The Big Lebowski is surprisingly lacking in both invention and innovation; I might go even further and express that more creativity can be excavated from its massive cultural impact, i.e. the inception and expansion of “Dudeism”*** by its many, many cult followers. Is it lacking in humor? No, not at all. Of course black comedies such as Fargo are easily more “cinepsychologically” identifiable, but when the massively side splitting chortles received in that film are weighed out beside those among The Big Lebowski, the scale evens out pretty smoothly…man.
In case it isn’t already clear, the film has the surname “Coen” jacked between every crevice it possesses, with Joel directing, Ethan producing, and both writing. That should automatically and thoroughly imply the simple expectations for a bizarre plot that is often difficult to make sense of. I’ll admit, I try to scrutinize films very carefully, but this seemed to hang with loose ends at times. The tale plays itself as a blend between a road movie, a comedy, a drama, a sports movie (because last I checked, bowling is a sport), and a bit of a mystery. We begin with Jeffrey Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), a tall guy who looks like a messy hippie. He prefers “The Dude” and some select derivatives, and he uses it as if it is an honorary title. Not Jeff, and not Mr. Lebowski. Just “The Dude”, man. One day, he finds himself being waterboarded (in a toilet, no less) by a group of criminals who are seeking some money. Clearly, he has been mistaken for another Jeffrey Lebowski (David Huddleston) who has plentiful amounts of cash. When he fails to meet their ruthless desires, his payback becomes having his rug urinated on. Claiming the rug was the one thing that tied his house together, the Dude seeks restitution…and brings his bowling buddies along with him for help.
The less you know about the film, the more priceless entertainment you’ll likely draw from the initial viewing. That’s not a phrase I’d so much as expect myself to employ for something in the absurd caliber of The Big Lebowski, but it’s an awfully bona fide statement. To reveal just a few more events that occur in the story’s thirty-minute setup would make the effect of the eventuating climax seem predictable, slapdash, and simply boring. The Dude himself is what makes the story so hilarious, when nothing else does. He speaks like a seventh-grade jock trying to incorporate challenging vocabulary into his everyday speech. I suppose I should reveal just one more tidbit from the setup: Quoth the Dude, “Let me explain something to you. Um, I am not ‘Mr. Lebowski’. You’re Mr. Lebowski. I’m the Dude. So that’s what you call me. You know, that or, uh, His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.” We are given the same misleading opening narration, on top of that, that made films like This Is Spinal Tap and the more recent Kung Fu Panda even more memorable (but contrary to the latter example, this is not a family movie). We are led to expect a film that sings the praises and triumphs of some sort of legendary victor that anyone in the film’s universe has heard of. We’re mislead so far, with first-person viewpoints that simply cannot be described by words like “oddball” or “psychedelic”, we have to wonder if the narrating character was the Coens’ former choice to preface a mockumentary glamorizing African poverty.
The Big Lebowski has been very frequently crowned the King (or, the Dude?) of the Black Comedy. As far as darkness, it doesn’t go all too far, but when bizarre comedy is factored in, such mentions are easily agreeable. In an oh-so-artistic way, it’s a film that enjoys whacking you upside the head with its clever, generous satire. It seems especially odd that the soundtrack is every bit country music, yet it comes with a surprisingly northern and vivacious mood. Set against The Dude’s awkward pseudo-urban dialect, it often progresses as a movie that bumbles with ten times more bizarreness. But if pictures that deliver that sort of original style won’t make us remember the Coens’ efforts in years to come, then what will, man? Either way…the Dude abides.
***Dudeism was founded by a Thai journalist named Oliver Benjamin in 2005, to promote the Dude’s ways in a way that also intermixes the more classical, revered, and ancient philosophies of Chinese Taoism and the Greek philosopher Epicurus. Some consider it a mock religion, some say it’s legit, but I guess it’s all up to how much you agree with the Dude’s own lifestyle, man. As of 2012, over 150,000 Dudeists Priests have undergone ordination. It’s free, easy, fun, and simple (why, yes, I did it myself), so if you happen to love the movie, I implore you to go to http://www.dudeism.com right now and ordain yourself, man. If you’re sitting there thinking, “I don’t know if I love it or hate it, because I haven’t seen it,” please change that as well. Much obliged.