The Big Lebowski (1998). Photo: Gramercy Pictures

Big Lebowski (1998)

"It's good knowin' he's out there. The Dude. Takin' 'er easy for all us sinners." - The Stranger 

It's almost impossible to overstate the popularity of the Coen brothers' cult classic The Big Lebowski. Like the Rocky Horror Picture Show, the film has become such a favorite that fans can recite the movie from start to finish. The LebowskiFest, an annual gathering of fans, grows larger every year, with white Russians flowing and Walter lookalikes muttering, "This isn't Nam, Smokey. There are rules." Yes, the Big Lebowski is a thing.

Like all Coen brothers' movies, the quirky characters are strange yet well defined: the stoner "Dude" with his laid-back lifestyle, art nerd Maude with her secret agenda, and Walter, the paranoid army vet that thinks everything has to do with Nam. Even the Stranger, our beloved cowboy narrater that mysteriously pops up, disappears, then wraps things up nice and tidy is a fan favorite.

But for me, the joy of Big Lebowski is in the dialogue. "The dude abides." "Over the line." "Mark it eight, dude." The list of famous quotes from the film goes on and on. Randomly drop in at any point inside the Big Lebowski screenplay, and you will encounter a classic, memorable line. The script is just that solid.

People love the Big Lebowski like no other movie, and if you are a film buff, you either are all in or have to do a lot of head shaking. I'm all in and have been from the first time I saw this absurd dark comic gem back in 1998. I love all of it: the dude's laid-back philosophy, the bowling, the Sam Elliot weirdness, even the overly complicated Raymond Chandler-inspired storyline.

That storyline? Basically, there is another Jeff Lebowski whose wife (Bunny) owes money to known pornographers, so thugs come and pee on Jeff (aka The Dude)'s rug. He gets involved in this caper to get compensated for his rug, and it just goes insane from there, with kidnappers, nihilists, performance artists, and more all working their angles. It's kind of like Chinatown, but with a lot of Creedence and chronic. Did I mention the white Russians?

The Big Lebowski's plot is a bit much to sort out on the first viewing, but there's a genius here, and if you stop trying to figure it out, it just works. In fact, the Coens intended the confusing plot, as Jeffrey Lebowski struggles with this insanity, just wishing he could go back to smoking joints in the bathtub listening to whale sounds on his cassette deck. As he points out midway through the chaos: "All the dude ever wanted was his rug back". His desire to be chill is a struggle, since the world around him has gone insane.

While white Russians and weed fuel this insane odd-ball comedy, The Big Lebowski is a movie that ages like a fine wine. There's a reason fans watch it repeatedly - it gets better each time you experience it. If you are one of the few people on earth that hasn't seen it yet (or haven't learned to appreciate it) the genius of the Big Lebowski, do yourself a favor: pour yourself a white Russian, kick back and let this comedy classic work its magic. C'mon Donnie, let's get a lane. (B+)

Directed by Joel Coen
Starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, David Huddleston, John Turturro, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tara Reid, Sam Elliott,Peter Stormare, Ben Gazzara
Genre: Comedy

Photo: Gramercy Pictures

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