The Big Lebowski
The Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski, which will be re-released August 16 as a limited edition Blu-ray DVD, is a unique comedy that has generated a cult following since its initial release in 1998. Jeff Bridges stars as Jeffrey Lebowski who calls himself “The Dude” and is described by the narrator as “the laziest man in Los Angeles County.”
The Dude is a still stuck in the late 1960s; he is a lackadaisical stoner who seems to have turned his back in the face of a changing America. Totally content as an unemployed slob, he embraces his role as a social misfit. He’ll even slouch to the market in a bathrobe and slippers to steal a drink of milk right out of the carton. The Dude lives to bowl, and his only social life is his bond with his bowling buddies Donny (Steve Buscemi) and Walter (John Goodman). Donny is a passive nice guy while Walter tends to veer into uncontrollable idiocy at the drop of a hat. He constantly chatters about his Vietnam experience, obsessing over snubs to the military, and is quick to use his veteran status to start arguments. He’s also quick to draw a .45 automatic whenever a social confrontation doesn't go his way.
As the film opens, The Dude is visited by two enforcers for a porn king, Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara), who is owed a lot of money by Lebowski's wife; the trouble is, The Dude isn’t married. The thugs figure out the mistaken identity, but not before they assault him and one of them pisses on The Dude’s living room rug. This indignity drives the rest of the plot—The Dude’s motivating concern is the soiled rug because “it really tied the room together.” Walter leads the hunt for revenge, convincing him that the real multi-millionaire Jeff Lebowski (David Huddleston) owes him a new rug. Borrowing lines directly from President George Bush on TV, Walter declares that “this aggression will not stand'' and urges the Dude to “draw a line in the sand.'' The Dude visits the other Lebowski (the Big Lebowski) and leaves with one of his rugs against the millionaire’s wishes. The Dude also meets Lebowski’s wife, Bunny (Tara Reid), who casually offers him oral sex for a thousand dollars. Soon after the visit, Lebowski hires The Dude as a mediator when Bunny is kidnapped, entrusting him to deliver a million dollars to the kidnappers.
It turns out that the rug The Dude took belongs to Lebowski’s daughter, Maude (Julianne Moore), a feminist and modern artist who creates paintings by flinging pigment while flying nude across the room in a harness. She even admits to hiring men who knocked The Dude unconscious in his home to steal the rug back-it had some sentimental value to Maude. Maude has other items to discuss with the Dude though, as she is also intertwined in the kidnapping predicament and opposes her father’s plans.
The more The Dude gets involved in the kidnapping plot, the more suspicious he thinks the whole thing is, but his explanations to all parties as to what keeps going wrong and why he fails to complete their bidding make no difference. None of them care because they all have their own agendas. It isn’t long before The Dude is getting whacked around in a tangled plot between Lebowski, Bunny, Maude, porno producer Jackie Treehorn and a pack of demented German Nihilists who have a thing for lingonberry pancakes. Eventually, the truth surfaces and we learn nothing appeared as it seemed. In the end, The Dude and Walter have to face off against the German Nihilists. They win, but not without losing their friend, Donny.
Some may complain the film charges in all directions and never ends up anywhere, but that is part of its allure. The Dude, who smokes a lot of pot and adores White Russians, begins each day with at least a bit of resolution, but his plans evaporate as he gradually surrenders his freedom and responsibility, letting the chips fall as they may. The mood is established at the very beginning, when the narrator (Sam Elliott) starts recounting the story of The Dude well enough, but eventually confesses he's lost his train of thought.
The Big Lebowski takes a variety of broad themes—religion, politics, war, and feminism—and explores their complex interactions in the present day. From start to finish the film bounces from one thematic extreme to another sometimes in a matter of seconds, and it frequently explores multiple themes simultaneously. There are endless interpretations of these themes; one popular analysis studies the similarities and differences between the subject of nihilism and slackers. Throughout the movie, the characters accuse one another of ‘being a nihilist,’ and there is also the group of German nihilists. The Dude refers to himself as a ‘bum’ or ‘slacker’ several times and some would say The Dude is completely blind to the fact he is a nihilist himself. This is not a comedian for the obtuse; there are so many historical and philosophical references that really add to our understanding of the book and allow us to make sense of a film with an incredibly ambiguous plot.
Unlike many so-called limited edition blu-ray releases these days, this one actually strives for "achiever" status in its efforts to get you to part with your money. After all, they've got to feed the monkey, right? This elegant, hardcase cover harbors gloss color inlays that contain treasure trove of geeky trivia, behind-the-scenes photos, a test-your-Dudeness Big Lebowski quiz, and an interview with the real-life inspiration for the eponymous slacker, Jeffrey Dowd.
By far the best featurette is The Dude Abides: The Big Lewbowski Ten Years Later in which cast and crew candidly discuss the memories of their experience and pontificate on the formation of this most unlikely of cult phenomenon. This featurette also provides rarely gleaned insight into the process of the notoriously tight-lipped and reclusive Coen Bros. There is also a cache of other little gems, including a F-bomb measurer, assorted music cues, and a recipe for your very own White Russian. You won't be rolling this Shabbos, you'll be digging through these extras.