It’s hard to pinpoint where the brilliance of the films of the Coen brothers can ever find itself limited because even their weaker films still carry enough of a bite to prevent the experience from being wholly unrewarding. But in these early films they seem to be developing their cynicism all the more and how exactly does it manage to add up to create an endlessly rewatchable ride? First off, you only need The Dude, a soiled rug, and bowling to create the perfect template for a drug-induced neo-noir that only provides more laughs the longer it goes on. It takes only as much as an attitude to make The Big Lebowski one of the Coen brothers’ most distinctive features but at the same time it also proves itself to be their most entertaining movie with such ease. It’s their most entertaining movie because of how well it manages to stick inside of your memory, because it keeps to the attitude and never lets go for as it did say in its own words, “The Dude abides.”
Jeff Bridges stars as a bowling-obsessed slacker named Jeffrey Lebowski, who goes by his alias “The Dude.” As his daily routine is about to go as he planned, he gets himself entangled into another mystery that involves a millionaire that also shares his name, after a case of mistaken identity leads to a duo of thugs soiling his beloved rug. In the words of the Dude himself, the rug really tied the room together and that’s only a fraction of why The Big Lebowski‘s greatness allows itself to shine the way that it does. It is a mystery that ultimately, starts out from nowhere of all places and even though it ends without a definite sense of a resolution, its cynicism still manages to find itself shining brightly in this dark comedy only about a guy who just loved bowling more than anything else in his life.
Alongside Bridges are John Goodman as his foul-mouthed best friend Walter Sobchak, a Vietnam War veteran who has trouble letting go of his past and Steve Buscemi as Donny, who never gets to finish saying what he wishes because Walter always tells him, “Shut the fuck up, Donny.” What else is there to say other than how the three of them create a perfect trio of misfits, other than how entertaining they can be for most of the film’s events happen to take place as a result of the shenanigans they unintentionally find themselves wrapped within? What helps in making their presences entertaining is knowing that the three have perfect chemistry in their moments together, as they spend time coming after one another as the film keeps going.
Everything that takes place in The Big Lebowski is the perfect means of indulging into a stoner fantasy, because it never feels ashamed of going to the most bizarre directions in regards to what happens to The Dude and his friends when you know that the Big Lebowski is watching over them. What would only have been a simple mystery-comedy about a slacker who loves bowling getting caught up within a kidnapping plot involving having to pay ransom only goes a whole bunch of other directions from how Walter’s other plans for the ransom money turn out as he wants to get away with keeping what the Big Lebowski proposes for the kidnappers and what happens to The Dude as a result. By having Jeff Bridges within such an unorthodox personality for himself to play, it’s hard not to like him but at the same time want him to get out of whatever he gets pulled into, and yet his journey only finds itself going everywhere.
It manages to stay entertaining because of how the Coen brothers manage to embrace the nature of a classic noir, namely Howard Hawks’s The Big Sleep coming to mind because of how a story that can only go straightforward only turns out to be one that sends our hero so many different places: for we have The Dude acting as their own Philip Marlowe, Maude as Vivian Rutlege, it’s not hard to see Raymond Chandler’s own influence still lays present in The Big Lebowski. But nevertheless it knows why we stick around to watch whatever we know the Dude can get himself involved within, because we know already that the greatest mystery that the Coen brothers pose for us is just his own lifestyle in itself. It’s ridiculous but the indulgences nevertheless make for a thoroughly entertaining ride.
At the end of the day, you know the ride will come to a stop just by ending at the repeat of one cycle – for at the end of the day, everything is resolved by a game of bowling. But even then, you know that the Coen brothers wouldn’t make that the supposed happy ending that a comedy about a stoner would have promised from the start. You just know that it’s a cycle of life that will come full circle, thus even more mysteries come along. Where does it start? For The Dude, it was all about a ruined rug, they just know the greatest mysteries can pull yourself in from just about anywhere you go. But the very reason you know it was so easy to stick around with The Big Lebowski was because you know what this lifestyle actually means for the self for at the end of the day, The Dude abides.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Universal.
Directed by Joel Coen
Screenplay by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Produced by Ethan Coen
Starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, David Huddleston, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro, Sam Elliott, Ben Gazzara, Tara Reid, David Thewlis, Peter Stormare, Torsten Voges, Flea
Release Year: 1998
Running Time: 117 minutes