The Big Lebowski - 1998
The Cohen brothers wrote and directed this cult classic, to follow up the critical (and box office) success of 1996’s Fargo. Even though they didn’t receive the same award success, they created a character and a philosophy that’s currently the center of a religion called; The Dudeism: The Church of the Latter-Day-Dude (http://dudeism.com/), if that’s not what a “cult movie” is, then I truly don’t know what the “cult” branding of a movie means. So, let me explain to you this movie’s plot:
Simple story of a Dude and his quest to replace his rug that was wrongfully pissed on. To get his rug replaced (and make some money), he is roped into a kidnapping mystery and becomes a quasi-private detective for all the parties involved and then stuff just… happens.
There have been different takes and reviews on this movie, from the social commentary to the performances (all being amazing), but I would like to focus on the writing, specifically how they introduce the characters.
Let’s start with our main character, The Dude (played by Jeff Bridges). As we hear a voice over (smooth voice of Sam Elliott) give us the intro to the story we see a shot of a grocery store and a tumbleweed rolling along. We go inside the grocery store and we see a man gingerly walking towards the milk isle (with absolutely no hurry to get there) with long hair, bushy facial hair, sunglasses, sandals and a robe. Without a single word spoken by him or to him we fully understand what type of man our main character is and how the world sees him. The Dude, after smelling the milk of his choice, goes up to the checkout counter and proceeds to write a check for sixty-nine cents to pay for his milk. The Cohens in under a minute in a half gave their audience almost all they needed to know on how this character thinks and acts, and that he is just a tumbleweed rolling through this world going where the wind blows.
Later in the movie we meet Walter (played by John Goodman) and in complete contrast to the Dude we meet him right in the middle of a tirade, while at the bowling alley. Walter hasa army buzz cut, tightly groomed beard, yellow tinted sunglasses, cargo shorts and a fishing vest. Walter is in complete outrage as to how a “Chinaman” enter the Dudes house and piss on his rug and think he can get away with it. Walter pushes the Dude to the idea that somebody needs to pay (in this case the Big Lebowski) for the injustices that have occurred to him. Walter will serve (for better or worst) as one of the strong winds that will push the Dude along on this adventure. The Cohens with the creating of Walter (along with the Dude), have established a yin and yang philosophy within their world, showcasing how contrary forces are complementary and interdependent in our world.
Now that the Cohens have introduced their two main characters, they went out of their way create a unique supporting cast (my favorites being Jesus and Brandt) around them and giving them great character introductions. Let’s run through them quickly:
Jesus (played by John Turtorro) is introduced to us by showing a hand filled with colorful rings (along with a long purple painted pinky fingernail) goes down to tie his bowling shoes and fix his socks. We see a tall skinny man wearing an all purple attire and a black durag at the bowling alley sizing up the shot he is about to attempt. We get a close-up of his face as he licks, multiple times, his bowling ball before going in to his throwing motion and we see his name “Jesus” embroiled into his purple shirt. He bowls a strike and dances to celebrate and show off to the entire alley. We finally see all the disapproving faces of our main characters and how we should feel about the character we just got introduced to.
Brandt (played by the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman) is introduced as the Dude comes to the big Lebowski’s mansion to demand (or politely ask) for his rug. The Dude walks around the office and Brandt tries to impress him with all the accolades the big Lebowski has gained throughout his career, with all of them either casually nodded away by the Dude or made fun off and Brandt loudly (and almost forced) laughing at everything the Dude says while also defending his employer. We fully understand what type of character Brandt is and how he will act around and not around his employer. Side note: This performance is rarely brought up when people talk about Hoffman’s resume (to be fair I know he has an amazing list of performances), but this is one of the funniest characters he ever portraited in a movie.
This is an extremely subtle funny movie. One of my favorite tiny moments of how funny this movie is, would be when the Dude spends God knows how long putting nails into a piece of wood to the floor so he can place a chair against the door to stop the different goons from entering his private residence only to have it fail since the door opens to the outside of the apartment and not to the inside. This moment isn’t just funny because of what happened, is funny because of the look the Dude has on its face, completely confused as to how his planned didn’t work.
The Big Lebowski is a movie that works on many comedic levels and finds a way to also shine a great noir crime movie. Having the Dude stumble upon clue after clue slowly unraveling the mystery of who kidnapped Bunny Lebowski. This movie made me laugh at what on the surface can be considered a stoner movie, but deep down it is much more and that’s why I love movies.
The Big Lebowski is currently streaming on HBO Go, watch it or whatever man.
If you like this review let me know over at Twitter (@yILovemovies) so you can be up to date with all my reviews.