20/12/2013

The Big Lebowski (1998)

Film: The Big Lebowski
Release: 1998, theatrical
Starring: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore
Directed by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: Jobless slob Jeff Lebowski, otherwise known as The Dude is thrown into a kidnapping negotiation when he's confused for a local billionaire with the same name

Hans' thoughts:

Between bowling tournaments, drug fantasies, riled up war veterans and one of the most complicated to sum up movies of all time, The Big Lebowski sits as one of those big quotable cult classic comedies. Made by the impeccable Coen bros., The Big Lebowski stars Jeff Bridges as "The Dude" a laidback slob that signs checks for ridiculously small amounts and whose only social outing is that of the ongoing Bowling league where he hangs out with his peers. The paranoid and quick to arms Vietnam veteran Walter played by John Goodman and the socially awkward loser Donny played by Steve Buscemi. Everything takes a radical turn for the complicated when The Dude is mistaken for a multimillionaire of the same name, said multimillionaire being the titular "Big Lebowski" whose wife owes a considerable amount of money to a local loan shark and pornography magnate and then seemingly gets kidnapped. The Dude will now have to balance the drama of being hired to negotiate with the kidnappers while fighting his own personal battle of wanting to win the local bowling league where his greatest adversary is the colorful sex offender Jesus Quintana played by John Turturro. This may seem like I'm spoiling the plot of the movie, but trust me that this is actually just the setup for a plot that will go further and further down a very strange rabbit hole. 

Acting wise the movie is great, The Coen brothers have always been a star pull and this time is no exception. John Goodman and Jeff Bridges as the movies leads make for a very funny oddball pair and every character in the movie is just so darn colorful that you can tell the actors involved had fun on the set. There's not really much of a limit to the utter cool of The Dude, he's a laidback guy who's just found his special sweet spot in the world and he very much channels the spirit of a grown up hippie who's never really gotten to the point of a formal career but instead decided to do whatever he wants. He may not be a big player in the political leagues or a hero in the formal sense but The Dude is nevertheless a man steadfast on his principles and he really just wants to go on existing the way he's done so far which is what makes him so relatable everytime he tries to call it quits on the strange version of The Hero's Journey he's been put on. Bridges does a great job of portraying the character and you can kinda see elements from his performance as Flynn in the 1982 movie Tron as he prefers pleasure to duty and is bare bones honest about it. The Dude is very much a hero of the era he exists in and would go on to become an icon of 20-somethings everywhere. The film is also littered with strange but compelling and well choreographed dream sequences where we explore the psyche of our very laid back character. 

While the plot may seem very complicated, it never goes too far and leaves the casual audience behind. Reusing many of the same characters and expanding on them while the movie goes along even minor characters kinda get their own little moment in the movie and we can kinda tell who they are even if we're never given all that much time with them or information about their past. It's very reminiscent of the Iceberg-style created by late author Ernest hemingway, a style where you're only shown the tip of the iceberg directly but it's a tip that you can really read a lot into thus revealing the rest of the iceberg hidden underneath. It's a very show-don't-tell style and one I feel really fits the visual medium but unfortunately never get's used enough. This is an independent piece and that use of style is a sign of it, I very much doubt that a film like The Big Lebowski would've been greenlit by a major studio. However the Coen bros funds all their movies themselves and the revenue always goes into the next project, they only really use the big companies like Universal Studios as in this case for the sake of distribution to a mainstream audience. That's a pretty hard thing to pull off, yet the Coen bros. have done so with all of their movies and it really speaks for the amount of talent that's behind them. Especially interesting to me were the political commentary inherent in the story. There are next to no innocents in this movie and everyone is portrayed as a bit of a two-faced buffoon with the only possible exceptions being Steve Buscemi's Donny and Julianne Moore's character whom shall go unnamed for the sake of spoilers. The Bowling imagery is a running theme in the movie and what exactly it means is thankfully left to interpretation, something I once again don't think a mainstream studio would've let slide.

The Big Lebowski is one of those bizarre instances of good acting meeting good scriptwriting and magic just happening on screen. Between characters taking on a life of their own, really well-written dialogue and some fun imagery the film presents us with a strange journey taken by a strange man where he meets strange people. The film takes on nihilism, social status, the burden of keeping up appearances and the presidency of George Bush senior all seen through the eyes of a man who actually just wants to be left alone and live out his humble but comfortable existence. 
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