The Big Lebowski (Joel & Ethan Coen, 1998)

07Apr10

Jeff Bridges (Jeff ‘The Dude’ Lebowski), John Goodman (Walter Sobchak), Julianne Moore (Maude Lebowski), Steve Buscemi (Theodore Donald ‘Donny’ Kerabatsos), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Brandt), Tara Reid (Bunny Lebowski). Directed by Joel Coen. Screenplay by Joen & Ethan Coen. Rating: 18. Running time: 117 minutes.

After seeing and loving Fargo, No Country For Old Men and most recently A Serious Man, The Big Lebowski is my fourth Coen brothers film. By now I have noticed a trend that clearly runs through all of their films: ordinary men get themselves tied up in messy situations. They end up completely out of their depth when plans go calamitously wrong and their paths cross with darker figures. There’s often a healthy dose of cursing to accompany this plot outline, along with an excessive amount of driving, lots of disturbing dreams and frequently ringing phones. The Big Lebowski is no exception. The only difference is that it’s absolutely bonkers in a way none of their other films are.

Just consider the plot: Jeff Lebowski, more commonly known as ‘The Dude,’ is described as the laziest man in LA. He’s unemployed, wears shorts and t-shirt 24/7, spends most of his time bowling and just generally gives the impression of being very casual. When two men break into his home demanding money, though, mistaking him for the millionaire Lebowski of the same name, he becomes a little less laid back. One of the men takes a piss on his rug, and he goes to the Big Lebowski in question demanding money for a replacement. He’s sent on his way, but is soon called back when Big Lebowski’s sex-obsessed trophy wife Bunny is kidnapped and a ransom of $100k is demanded. The idea is that the Dude can make the payment and identify the kidnappers, assuming they’re the same guys that infiltrated his apartment earlier on demanding payment of Bunny’s debts.

When the Dude explains the situation to his friends, however, the plans change. Walter Sobchak, a bad-tempered Jewish Vietnam-vet turn bowling-obsessive (he whips a gun out when someone breaks the rules), has the great idea of handing the kidnappers a ‘ringer’ case of dirty underwear, and the Dude and his pals instead keeping the 100k for themselves. Chaos ensues when they indeed do this, but leave the real suitcase in the Dude’s later-to-be-stolen car. Now the kidnappers want the real case, the Big Lebowski wants to know where his money’s gone, his daughter Maude is making calls to relocate the cash that her father actually took from a trust fund rather than his own private stash, and absolutely no-one knows where the money actually is.

The events that follow are nothing short of mental and completely hilarious, and it’s told in the wildest of ways. I don’t think it’s as composed as their other films. It doesn’t quite feel rounded or perfected in the same way. But there’s no doubt it flourishes with imagination and originality even more than the wholly creative Fargo did. The Dude’s hallucinations, including him flying over LA firstly Superman-style and secondly Aladdin-esque on a magic carpet, get crazier and feel less controlled as the film goes on. But it’s nevertheless completely engaging. Somehow the story of some slackers that avidly bowl and their involvement with a missing suitcase feels like the product of pure genius. Hats off to the Coen brothers.

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