The Dude Still Abides
Ever had one of those days when nothing went your way? This was the Dude’s life. At least during the now cult classic The Big Lebowski. In Joel and Ethan Coen’s and oft-quoted tale of mistaken identity, Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) is beaten by a pair of idiot thugs who have mistaken him for the other Jeffrey Lebowski: the “Big” Lebowski (David Huddleston), a local millionaire. They are looking for his wife, Bunny (Tara Reid), who owes money to a lot of seedy characters. As one thug plunges the Dudes head into the toilet, he asks, “Where’s the money, Lebowski? Bunny says you’re good for it!” The other thug then proceeds to urinate on the Dude’s favorite rug, which is the impetus for the entire movie. The Dude asks the thugs, “Does this place look like I’m f***in’ married? The toilet seat’s up, man!” Clearly, they have the wrong man. Thus begins a journey for the Dude that includes stolen rugs, a severed toe, a lot of White Russians, and a lot more bowling.
The Dude pays a visit to the other Lebowski to get reimbursed for the peed-on rug. The rug that “really tied the room together.” The Big Lebowski wants to hear none of it. He writes the Dude off as a bum looking for a handout and bids him farewell. Later, though, he calls the Dude for help. Bunny has been kidnapped and he needs someone to deliver the million-dollar ransom, thinking Dude may recognize the carpet-peers. They know she’s been kidnapped because the kidnappers have sent the big Lebowski Bunny’s severed pinky toe, green polish and all.
The setting is Los Angeles, 1991. The Dude is a between-jobs slacker with nothing more to do than “…bowl, drive around, and take the occasional acid trip.” His buddies at the alley are Walter Sobchack (John Goodman), a Vietnam War veteran who would sooner kill someone than talk to them and uses a war reference for every situation, and Donny Kerabatsos (Steve Buscemi), who always seems one step behind the conversation and is told endlessly by Walter to “Shut the f*** up, Donny!”
A series of hilarious blunders ensue and there are more memorable moments and quotable lines than in most movies of recent memory. At one point, Walter loses it during a league game at the alley after his opponent crosses the foul line when rolling. When the opponent, Smokey, refuses to take a zero for the frame, Walter pulls out his pistol and points it in Smokey’s face saying, “Mark it zero! Has the whole world gone crazy?” On their way to the car (and as the police are arriving), Dude tells Walter just how shocking his behavior had been, that “those guys are pacifists, like me…Smokey was a conscientious objector!” He told Walter that Smokey had some emotional problems, to which Walter replied, “You mean beyond passivism?”
In a freaky turn, John Turturro plays creepy Latino bowling nemesis Jesus Quintana (pronounced Jesus). He reportedly did six months in prison for exposing himself to an 8-year-old. He continually tells Dude’s team, “I’m gonna f*** you up!” Turturro’s screen time is limited, but he makes a huge impression. In one of the movie’s most memorable scenes, Jesus does a dance to the Gipsy Kings’ Spanish version of the Eagles’ “Hotel California.”
That’s another thing…the F-bomb is dropped an estimated 260 times during The Big Lebowski. This may be more than some people can endure. A few critics at the time of release called the language unnecessary and only existing to fill the void where dialogue was missing. This, however, is not the case. One viewing will prove that each and every word in the script is necessary. Nothing should be added or omitted. During a scene in the bowling alley when Dude is talking to The Stranger, a cowboy played by Sam Elliott (Viewers are unsure as to the Stranger’s role in the film. Is he real? Is he a figment of the Dude’s imagination?), the Stranger says to the Dude, “There’s just one thing, Dude…you have to use so many cusswords?” To which the Dude responds, “…the f*** you talkin’ about?”
When German Nihilists get involved with the kidnapping plot, insanity is not far away. They continuously repeat, “We believe in nothing!” When they break into the Dude’s house while he’s bathing and begin to smash his stereo equipment, he yells, “Hey, this is a private residence, man!”
Julianne Moore plays Maude Lebowski, the Big Lebowski’s daughter and an avid feminist. She let’s the Dude know that her father is not really rich, that it was her mother who inherited all that money which has been put into a trust fund. When the Big Lebowski hires Dude to take a million dollars to the kidnappers, the suitcase is empty (he has kept it for himself), making Dude the pawn.
When the Nihilists finally “kill” the Dude’s car, Walter, Donny, and the Dude enter into fisticuffs with the Germans. During all the commotion, Donny suffers a fatal heart attack. When Walter and Dude have Donny cremated, they decide to spread his ashes into the ocean. When Walter opens the Folgers’ coffee can (this is all they could afford), the ashes blow into the Dude’s face, once again proving what a screw-up Walter is.
In the end, Walter’s theory that Bunny kidnapped herself proves to be true. She was never in danger and never lost her toe – that toe belonged to the girlfriend of one of the Nihilists.
The Coen brothers based the character of the Dude on their longtime friend Jeff Dowd. Dowd was a member of the Seattle Seven in the late sixties and early seventies. The group was a radical anti-Vietnam War organization in Seattle. The Dude even references this in the film, saying, “Did you ever hear of the Seattle Seven? That was me…and six other guys.”
Bridges gives the performance of his career, which could almost be autobiographical, as convincing as he is in the role of the Dude. The Coen brothers are at the top of their game as well, in the writing and direction. The Big Lebowski opened two years after their Oscar winner Fargo, and two years before another winner, O Brother, Where Art Thou? At this year’s Academy Awards, the Coens scored big, winning four statues including Best Picture and Best Direction for No Country For Old Men. They’ve definitely come a long way from their first feature Blood Simple in 1984. Raising Arizona has become another cult classic from the Coen brothers, complete with top-notch writing and left-of-center characters.
The Big Lebowski features a soundtrack to rival all soundtracks. The original score by Carter Burwell is mesmerizing and gives the movie much of its identity. T-Bone Burnett was the music bibliographer, and did a terrific job by including such artists as Bob Dylan, Kenny Rogers, Elvis Costello, and Moondog.
The movie had a lukewarm reception when it opened on March 6, 1998. The budget was $15 million and the movie made just over $17 million. While reviews were mixed, the true Coen brothers fans still appreciate the film’s intelligence and eccentric, twisted sense of humor. In 2002, fans began an annual ritual to honor The Big Lebowski with the Lebowski Fest in Louisville, Kentucky. The Fest has since expanded to several cities and the Dude lives on in the hearts and minds of slackers and movie buffs alike. Yes, the Dude definitely abides.