Scoop's notes on The Big Lebowski (1998)

Imagine one of those noir detective movies like The Big Sleep where every character is lying, everybody is double crossing everyone else, and the plot is so muddled that even the author couldn't remember who did what. Now imagine if the guy trying to solve the crime was not Marlowe or Sam Spade, but Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, now 50 years old and known as The Dude.

That'll give you the general idea of what The Big Lebowski is about. Apparently "Lebowski" is the Polish word for "sleep".

Strangely enough, I didn't like the movie that much when I first saw it in the theater, but over the years it has crept into my head and become one of my favorites, and I've now watched it at least a half dozen times. What can ya say? The Dude abides, man. This film has now attained cult status at a level where its aficionados gather every year for a "Dudefest" (or an "Annual Lebowski Fest," if you're not into the whole brevity thing).

Jeffrey Lebowski is the laziest man in LA according to the narrator. Lebowski is known as The Dude, or "el duderino if you're not into the whole brevity thing", and is played by Jeff Bridges as an unkempt, pony-tailed, physically sloppy man with a potbelly to match his pot head. (Bridges did a great job, as always, and is barely recognizable.) Ol' Duder basically sits in his untidy apartment, smokes dope, drinks White Russians, and meditates, interrupting his reveries only for an occasional sojourn to the bowling alley, or to replenish his supply of Kahlua.

One day, a couple of thugs come in and pee on his rug. Well, it turns out they have mistaken The Dude for a high roller whose name is also Jeffrey Lebowski. The other Jeffrey Lebowski, the Big Lebowski, has a wife who has somehow run up some debts with the porno mob. Since Big Lebowski is the one ultimately responsible for Dude Lebowski's urine-stained carpet, Dude moseys over to Big's mansion to demand compensation ... 

 ... because ... well, because that rug really brought the room together.


Julianne Moore shows her breasts and behind at a great distance from the camera, and also shows her breasts in a fast-motion close-up that can only be seen in stop motion.

There are two topless women being tossed in beach blankets.

Somehow, Big Lebowski enlists the Dude into his life. It seems that somebody has kidnapped Big's trophy wife for a ransom, and Big wants Dude to be the bag man.

Now we're getting to the noir section of our plot:

  • Did Big really put the money in the suitcase, or is he working his own swindle? (Turns out his supposed wealth is really his daughter's)
  • Did Dude's crazy friend Walter switch suitcases? Ol' Walter has some issues. For example, he pulled out his gun and was going to shoot an opposing bowler for failing to report a foot fault. (Say, how many movies has Goodman bowled in? Lebowski, Flintstones, King Ralph ... Goodman is to bowling as Billy Zane is to sinking ships.)
  • Is the wife really missing at all?
  • Who the hell are these kidnappers?

Who knows? Certainly not the Dude, who is stoned 24/7 and can't figure it out. Since we are mostly inside his POV, it's all pretty messy to us as well. And it doesn't make any difference at all.

The cast is astounding, not just for the talent assembled, but for their appropriateness to the roles they were assigned. How did it all happen that way? The Coen Brothers wrote many parts with specific actors in mind, then hired them: John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, Sam Elliott. They created a customized piece for Sam Elliott even though they didn't even know the guy. They liked his style, and they liked his basso voice, so they imagined a character like him narrating the entire story. Also, they liked the fact that he had a big moustache and you couldn't see his lips, thus making it easy to post-dub dialogue! Elliott had no idea how he fit into the film, but he was a good sport, and the Coens told him that his character didn't make that much sense to them either - they just thought it was amusing.

They were right.

If I were a writer/director, I would have Sam Elliott and Samuel L Jackson in every movie. Even if it took place in the court of Louis XIV.

Are the Coen Brothers geniuses at picking their sound track, or what? Talk about eclectic. Talk about offbeat. From Mussorgsky to a Spanish language version of Hotel California, and everything in between.

To the right is a picture of The Dude fixing a White Russian in the shadow of his main man. After all, The Dude is working as an amateur dick, and he's seen here with the Trickiest Dick of them all. The Dude's sportin' life consists entirely of bowling, so a picture of Nixon bowling was virtually of religious significance.

Without really knowing, you just somehow sensed that Nixon used a red bowling ball.

DVD info from Amazon

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1, plus a full screen version which is not pan-n-scan, but the full 35mm negative.

  • 30 minute interview with the Coen brothers

My favorite part of the movie is the little rock video dreamt by the Dude when he passed out stoned. I think I can best give you the idea by mentioning that it involves Saddam Hussein's bowling shoes and Julianne Moore in a horned Viking helmet. Oh, and that part of it is in the bowling ball's POV.

The film is filled with offbeat characters just for the hell of it, and it really makes almost no sense at all. The narrator (Sam Eliot) even admits that he's lost his train of thought, and anyway, concedes that he's just a guy in a cowboy suit at the bowling alley bar, but he tells us that we should be grateful that the Dude is out there, "takin' 'er easy fer all us sinners". 

Amen to that, brother.  Amen to that.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 3/4, Apollo 77/100

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 8.0, one of their all-time Top 250. 
  • With their dollars ... it didn't do very well. Although it would later attain High Cult status, it grossed only $17 million in its theatrical release.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B or better. Arguably an A. Sheer genius! Maybe the best stoner movie ever made, and one of the few with appeal to those who don't especially like stoner movies. One of the great movie comedies.

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