Sad Hill Media

Film & Lesser Arts with Will Ross, Devan Scott, & Daniel Jeffery.

By Devan Scott

The Big Lebowski is a singularly bizarre comedic work. It doesn’t seem to bother conforming to any sort of sensible plot structure or narrative. It just sort of floats from one plot point to the next, occasionally stopping to highlight a quirky character or situation. It’s a movie meticulously engineered to give the off feeling that absolutely no planning or thought went into it. Watching it is akin to watching a more coherent movie through some kind drug-addled haze, and that’s precisely the point. The film is about as lucid as its main character, which is to say not in the least bit. It’s also the greatest comedy to have come out since 1994, and a fantastic entry into the Coen Brothers' staggeringly good directorial canon.

As the opening narration kindly informs us, this is the story of Jeff Lebowski, an absolute mess of a man who prefers to be called “The Dude”. A holdover from the sixties and ostensibly “The laziest man in Los Angeles” as described by the narrator, he’s never seen without a joint in his hand and sandals on his feet. He spends his days hanging around the local bowling alley with his teammates. These include the incredibly loud and belligerent Walter and the witless Donny, the former constantly imploring the latter to “Shut the fuck up.”

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One day, two thugs show up at The Dude’s house, mistaking him for another Jeff Lebowski who’s racked up a great deal of debt. However, before leaving, they urinate on The Dude’s rug, greatly upsetting him because, uh, that rug really tied the room together. Seeking compensation, he meets the other Lebowski, demanding reimbursement for his soiled rug. What ensues is a series of increasingly bizarre events which result in The Dude becoming embroiled in a kidnapping plot, running afoul of a porn kingpin, fighting a group of nihilists, and enduring the occasional acid flashback. Along the way, he encounters various strange people, including a demented modern artist and a bowling pederast names Jesus.

With a plot this convoluted and borderline incoherent, it’s remarkable that the film stays afloat; however, considering the subject matter and the manner it’s presented, it’s unimaginable that the film would work with a straightforward plot. The Big Lebowski is like listening to a story told by someone who forgets where they were going with it – actually, it’s exactly that; The narrator himself admits "Ah, hell. I've lost my train of thought."

This is a film in which conversations seem to circle endlessly. The dialogue on display here is truly remarkable in its sheer nonsensicality. Characters blather on and on about absolutely nothing, conversations (like the plot) regularly derail themselves, often devolving into shouting matches, and the word “Uh…” makes frequent appearances. Considering its unique dialogue and massive lack of emphasis on plot, the success or failure of The Big Lebowski really depends on the characters and the actors that portray them.

It’s a good thing, then, that every last character is incredibly compelling, and watching the interplay between the various actors is quite the to see. Jeff Bridges imbues The Dude with a stoned-out elegance that catapults his character into the territory of all-time comedic greats. As a comic foil, John Goodman’s Walter is about as perfect as they come. He’s as confrontational as The Dude is mellow, and both characters complement each other brilliantly. The various supporting characters that The Dude chances upon are just as memorable; Jesus, the bowling pederast, nearly steals the show at certain points. Dressed entirely in the most garish purple tracksuit imaginable and played by John Turturro, he’s captivatingly revolting. The Dude even has his own personal narrator, albeit a forgetful one who doesn’t seem to realize he’s not in a western.

The true genius present in The Big Lebowski reveals itself on repeated viewings. This is due to a couple of reasons. The first is in how subtle the jokes are. The film does nothing to call attention to its funniest jokes; indeed, on a first viewing it’s nearly impossible to catch all of them. The second is in how layered and self-referential much of the humor is. The dialogue is laced with an absurd amount of inside jokes and references to earlier or later occurrences in the film; for example, a great deal of The Dude’s dialogue is cribbed from other characters in the film, meaning that The Dude has practically no original thoughts of his own. Details like this only reveal themselves on repeated viewings, and it’s because of this that the film stands up so much when seen multiple times.

I could go into how Roger Deakins’ cinematography miraculously turns mundane locations like Los Angeles bowling alleys into compelling environments or gush about how T-Bone Burnett’s selection of music is unbelievably perfect, but I’ll save everyone the trouble and just say that The Big Lebowski is an incredibly unique masterpiece of comedic filmmaking and leave it at that.

Because after all, that’s just, like, my opinion, man.


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