By Jason A. Hill
The Big Lebowski, USA / UK, 1998
Directed by Joel Coen
“The dude abides” is the credo that has led this cult classic for more than ten years running now, and it wasn’t until just this past July that I finally sat down to The Big Lebowski. Now, after reading this one may get the sense that I really have something against the Coens; I mean, after all, my first article bashed the film that gave these indisputably talented filmmakers their first Oscar. However, I have to call ’em like I see ’em, and this film was either over my head or I need a pot brownie to fully appreciate it.
Let me mark off what I did get from this film. Many critics and viewers say that this film isn’t about its plot, it’s about attitude, that attitude being that no matter what happens to a person in life, there is always a silver lining. The Dude never lies, steals, or cheats, but when someone pisses on his carpet he sets out to do what’s right for himself. He’s the free American who lives on the fringes and is more than content with life with a White Russian in one hand, an occasional fling in the other, and maybe a roach in his toe.
Since so many people say that the plot is not important in this film, I won’t even waste my time laying it out in a full summary. Basically, we are in Malibu, CA, bowling; a guy pees on the wrong guy’s carpet in retaliation for something; a kidnapping; some money; Vietnam War; “Shut the f**k up, Donnie!” But it seems to what the popularity of this movie is mostly attributed is the philosophy of “The Dude.” I think anyone can appreciate that kind of carefree stoner attitude, but in a film like this I kept getting distracted by the “plot.” I found myself spending too much time trying to figure out what was happening and where any of it was going. And I think Brad Pitt actually played a much better version of “The Dude” in a brief scene in Tony Scott’s True Romance (1993). I guess I could be a little too much of a film snob to get it, but I can’t help but love a good story.
Maybe the Dude has become such a popular character because people like to imagine what it would be like if life was that easy to brush off. The dude never worries, even in the face of serious threats or the death of his friend, but maybe this is because the Dude simply doesn’t exist. Realism is not the Coens M.O. The Coens have been really good at creating completely unrealistic characters with whom film audiences are intrigued. Perhaps it is because of the quirky settings the Coens are so good at creating, which allow for such unrealistic characters to seem believable. Having such a kind of otherworldly setting is the kind of thing I really enjoy in a film, but to bring me into the story it’s got to have a plot. What’s left in this film is just the Dude, and he’s more of a caricature than he is a character. He doesn’t carry the film for me, nor does he entertain me enough to justify the 117 minutes I sat there watching him and his antics. The Dude does not deliver for me.
If I want the kind of entertainment I get from watching the Dude, hell, I live in the Bay Area and I have a handful of friends I can go hang out with, but chances are they will be watching The Big Lebowski on VHS.
Jason A. Hill is the Founder, Owner and Editor In Chief of Movies I Didn’t Get.com. He is a film critic and writer of articles and film reviews covering a variety of genres and film news that have been syndicated to many sites in the film blogosphere. He specializes in independent film in the US and Asia.
For more information please contact Jason at JasonAHill@MoviesIDidn’tGet.