Every now and then, a good joke embeds itself in the public psyche, so you should try not to notice its effect. The Big Lebowski that’s the movie, people. Now celebrating its 25th Anniversary, this delightful little comedy from the brilliant Joel and Ethan Coen serves as a reminder of all that was once great about Hollywood. From foul-mouthed humor, twisted plots, and spiritual undertones, The Big Lebowski does not mince words and is not afraid to cross any line.
The 90s were great, people.
One of the best things about Lebowski so this is Coen’s follow-up to the Academy Award-winning Fargo, a prestigious dramedy that shot the duo into the critical spotlight. Oh sure, pictures like Simple Blood, Rising in Arizona, Miller’s Crossingand Barton Fink won praise, but everyone loved everyone Fargo. “Films like ‘Fargo’ are why I love movies,” wrote Roger Ebert.
Joel and Ethan ran away with the Oscar for Best Screenplay that year, while Frances McDormand claimed the trophy for Best Actress. Fargo grossed $51M at the worldwide box officethe Coens’ highest grossing.
Everyone is eagerly awaiting their next venture. I remember seeing various pictures of Jeff Bridges and John Goodman in movie magazines with blurbs citing the writer’s excitement to see what the Coens would cook up next. When Lebowski finally hit in the Spring of 1998, I remember some negative reactions bemoaning the picture because of its story, slapstick comedy, and, well, nothing to do with Fargo.
still, Lebowski earns like Fargo whole world but only raked in $17M in the States. Critics are kind but strict. Ebert was one of the few early to notice the greatness, giving the film four stars, ranking it in his Great Movies, and thinking, “If a man has a roof over his head, fresh half and half for with his White Russians, a little grass and his bowling buddies, what more, really, does he need?”
Others took a long time to join the party.
Since its release, The Big Lebowski has become a true classic, its themes resonate as well today as they did in the late 90s. Even more interesting are the curious observations people have made about the film’s subtext. Others see the whole picture as a movie about human bondage and point to obvious imagery like scissors and the abundance of weak men in the picture to prove their point – Walter walks still with his ex-wife’s dog, for cripes sake! Others cling to the not-so-subtle massage of war – the photo took place in the early 90s during the first Gulf War, showed a lot of Saddam Hussein, and made obvious references to George Bush, specifically, “This is not stand up, you. know. This aggression won’t last, man.”
There is even a theory that Julianne Moore’s character, Maude, is behind the kidnapping.
The stars themselves, Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, and Steve Buscemi, had a fun sit-down where they discussed their characters and the meaning of the film. At one point, Bridges posits that Donny is not real. None of them could decide if Walter had served in Vietnam.
Lots of fun tidbits throughout Lebowski, including words describing male and female genitalia hidden in plain sight. One would probably have to watch the movie a dozen times to get them all. In this video, Ryan Hollinger pointed out that the image foreshadows Donny’s death until his final bowl, when the character turns to reveal the name “Johnson” sewn into the back of his shirt. Remember how the nihilists said they’d cut the Dude’s johnson? Well, eventually, they did. Kind of. The same video references Alice in Wonderland — the Dude is literally chasing a Bunny — and Raymond Chandler and Vietnam … Google “The Big Lebowski” and note the many articles that meticulously dissect movie story to find the meaning.
All this to say, the Coen brothers have created a motion picture that one can enjoy at face value as a hilarious comedy or study on a deeper level. But, like most of their works, the overt symbolism, quippy dialogue, and incessant literary references can mean anything or nothing at all. Such is the scene in their film A Serious Man where the main character hears the story about Goy’s Teeth:
Is there more to the story of the Dude in the The Big Lebowski? Maybe. Does any of this matter? Maybe. Does it matter? Absolutely not. I believe the film suggests that we stop trying to control the uncontrollable, cut out the noise, and do what makes us happy. Corruption, war, violence, and filth rule the world, most of which are manipulated by horrible people who don’t care about the little people. One can actually choose to fight against the person, to no avail — or, they can say, “F— this, let’s go bowling.”
The audience will be entertained The Big Lebowski on so many levels, which is part of his genius. Here is a film that caters to film nerds and general audiences in equal measure. Incessantly quoted — “Shut the f— up, Donny!” — and full of amazing characters — don’t f— with Jesus! – films like The Big Lebowski the reason — borrow from Mr. Ebert — I love movies. Like a tumbleweed rolling across the desert, it took this classic comedy a while to catch up with moviegoers and critics.
It doesn’t matter – the Dude remains, man, even 25 years later.