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The Big Lebowski

From Academic Kids

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The Big Lebowski is a 1998 film written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen starring Jeff Bridges as "The Dude", (or Jeff Lebowski), John Goodman, Julianne Moore, David Huddleston (as Jeffrey Lebowski), Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Sam Elliott. Coen brothers' regulars John Turturro, Jon Polito, and Steve Buscemi are also featured. It's widely considered to be a cult classic for its originality and direction, its memorably eccentric characters, and its ridiculously contrived plot that as much as anything else centered aroung The Dude's earnest quest to replace his soiled living room rug.

Contents

Story

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The Dude, Jeff Lebowski

The Dude, Jeff Lebowski (Bridges), has his home invaded by thugs looking to collect a debt incurred by the wife of Jeff Lebowski. Only after the thugs trash the Dude's house and urinate on his rug do they realize that they have arrived at the house of the wrong Jeff Lebowski. At the insistence of his psychopath bowling buddy Walter (Goodman), the Dude attempts to obtain a replacement rug from the other Jeff Lebowski, a wheelchair-bound millionaire. The Dude later becomes entangled in a kidnapping scheme involving Lebowski's trophy wife, "Bunny" (Tara Reid), and a gang of German nihilists.

The storyline, a bizarre twisting of the film noir genre, is interesting in and of itself, but also functions as a frame upon which the humorous situations and characterization can be hung, in particular the bizarre array of characters:

Characters

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The Dude (Jeff Bridges), Donny (Steve Buscemi) and Walter Sobchak (John Goodman)
  • The Dude (Jeff Bridges) - cannabis-smoking anti-hero, whose ambition is limited to bowling and drinking White Russians. He is unemployed. He was briefly a roadie for Metallica. He is described by the Cowboy narrator as "The laziest man in Los Angeles County, which would put him high in the running for the laziest man worldwide".
  • Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) - a Jewish convert and Vietnam War vet whose mental instability provides much of the comedy of the film; he is paranoid and his constant interference in the events of the story are the impetus for much of the action. He runs his own security firm (Sobchak Security).
  • Donny (Steve Buscemi) - the third member of Walter and The Dude's bowling team, forever out of touch with events and trying to catch up, and constantly being told to shut up by Walter.
  • Jeffrey Lebowski (David Huddleston) - a wheelchair-bound multi-millionaire married to a young pretty woman, Bunny; his motives are perennially unclear. He is the "Big Lebowski" of the title.
  • Bunny (Tara Reid) - Jeffrey Lebowski's wife, a young playbunny who has run away from her family in Moorehead Minnesota; she is supposedly kidnapped, but at the end of the film it is revealed that she has merely disappeared for a weekend without telling anyone. This is the central macguffin for the movie.
  • Brandt (Philip Seymour Hoffman) - Jeffrey Lebowski's butler, constantly nervous and echoing his boss.
  • Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore) - Jeffrey Lebowski's daughter, a feminist avant-garde artist who believes her father's "weakness has always been vanity."
  • Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara) - a porn film director, who used to direct movies with Bunny. He has two thugs in his employ, one of whom (Woe) pees on The Dude's rug.
  • The German nihilists - a group of ethnic Germans, led by porn star "Karl Hungus" (Peter Stormare), who claim belief in nihilism, though their actions belie this; (musicians Flea of The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Aimee Mann play two of the nihilists, while the fourth is played by Torsten Voges, who is indeed German in real life). They used to be in a band called 'Autobahn', a reference to the German electronic band Kraftwerk. They attempt to use the Bunny situation for financial gain.
  • Jesus Quintana (John Turturro) - Actually pronounced "gee-zuss". A convicted child molester, this character competes with The Dude and Walter at bowling, and constantly trash-talks using violent sexual metaphors to get his point across. This character also has one of the most well known quotes of the film, "Nobody fucks with da Jesus."
  • The Stranger (Sam Elliott) - The narrator of the movie, looking at Los Angeles from an outsider's perspective. He does not see The Dude as a low-life, and even makes reference to him as an ironic tragic figure: "The Dude. Takin' 'er easy for all us sinners."

The plot is based very loosely on Raymond Chandler's novel The Big Sleep and the Humphrey Bogart film based upon it, but has been modernized and revolves around marijuana and ten pin bowling, and makes liberal use of the 1991 Gulf War as a backdrop.

Analysis

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Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore)

The Big Lebowski is a cult film, in that it received mediocre or moderately positive reviews, generally, but sales were and remain slim. Perhaps one reason is the anti-hero status of The Dude, whose refusal of gainful employment makes him difficult for some to sympathize with, as well as the general eccentricity of all the primary players in the plot. Those that elevate the movie to cult status enjoy and identify with the unusual characters, appreciate the movie's very clever and quotable dialogue, or some combination of both. The cult status has developed to the point where fans of the movie have "Lebowski Fest" conventions twice a year, during which people bowl, dress like characters in the movie, and drink White Russians. Some even show off their old and dilapidated automobiles, which resemble the Dude's rusted and discolored 1970s-era car. Drinking and marijuana smoking games have also evolved from the film's liberal depiction of both substances.

Interestingly enough, The Big Lebowski was a big boxoffice hit in Israel. It has been viewed by hundreds of thousands on screen, and is still aired on TV every couple of months. This could be explained by its witty treatment of several Israeli open nerves, among which:

  • Die Hard Jewish converts - "shomer fucking shabbos!"
  • Nazism - "at least it's an ethos"
  • Fear of terrorist actions - "My only hope is that the big Lebowski kills me before the Germans can cut my dick off"
  • The Gulf War - "look at our current situation with that camelfucker in Iraq"

Many of the characters and plot elements in The Big Lebowski were inspired by people the Coen brothers have known throughout the years. For instance, The Dude's micturated-upon rug was inspired by the Coen Brothers' uncle Pete, who had a fixation upon an unattractive rug he owned and how "it tied the room together". Also, Pete spoke of his experiences in Vietnam quite bitterly, much like the character Walter. The Dude is based quite heavily upon the Coen Brothers' real life friend, Jeff "The Dude" Dowd, who, like Lebowski, was a member of the Seattle Seven. According to the Coens, Dowd refers to himself as "the Pope of Dope".

One of the themes of the film is that every major character, except for The Dude, is trying to pass themselves off as something they are not. Examples:

  • The Big Lebowski claims to be a self-made millionaire
  • Bunny is actually a runaway teenager
  • The nihilists aren't really nihilists
  • Maude puts on airs
  • Jesus Quintana is actually a convicted pedophile
  • Walter is only a convert to Judaism, yet lays claim to more of the Jewish tradition than he (presumably) has a right to.

Trivia

  • Jeff Bridges's father, Lloyd Bridges, died only four days after this film was first released on March 10, 1998.
  • Jeffery Lebowski's character is based on Jeff Dowd, a longtime friend of the Coen brothers.
  • The rug that "tied the room together" now hangs on the wall of La'Bowski's Restaurant in Lubbock, Texas.
  • The word "man" is said of 174 times during the film.
  • "The Dude" is in every scene, except for the diner scene with the nihilists, in which the missing toe is seen.
  • The term "oat soda" is used to refer to beer

External links

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