The Big Lebowski

Paul Yim Paul Yim: (paulyim-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-09-13 02:49:24

The Big Lebowski - Rank A

About twelve years ago, at the apex of the Indie Movie Renaissance, the Coen brothers established themselves as serious filmmakers with their sleeper hit Fargo. It was an independent film that was nominated for 7 Oscars, including Best Picture, winning 2 of them. It put the name "Coen" on the Hollywood map. Their choice for a follow-up movie was mystifying: the quirky comedy The Big Lebowski.

Once someone "makes it" in Hollywood they ostensibly make the movie they've always wanted to make as their follow-up movie because they figure "Hell, they'll never let me do this again." Mel Gibson followed his Academy Award-winning Braveheart with The Passion of the Christ - a distinctly Roman Catholic view of the life and death of Jesus that wasn't even in English. And, no, they'll never let him do it again. How interesting, then, that the Coens would choose to take their carte blanche and turn it into a movie that is both an homage to those old detective movies of Hollywood's golden age and an irreverent, tongue-in-cheek departure from anything remotely "Hollywood".

A distinct feature of old detective movies is the narrative voice-over, either throughout the picture or merely used as bookends at the beginning and end. The Big Lebowski is not without this same kind of narration, but it's cleverly masked behind the easy Texas drawl of Sam Elliot. Another feature of old private dick movies is the wheelchaired old codger entreating the aid of a stranger to find/follow his wife/daughter. This time the wife is young enough to be the old man's daughter. And yet another element of old detective yarns is the world-weary love interest with a heart of gold. Except that, in Lebowski, she's an avant-garde painter who's ulterior motive is for her to be impregnated by our hero, The Dude. She doesn't want to blackmail him for money or anything, she merely desires a father for her child who will have absolutely no interest in rearing the child whatsoever. Plus all the twists and turns, shakedowns, double-crosses, and red herrings make for a fine tribute to those detective stories of days gone by.

But the movie is much more than a mere homage to old Hollywood. It has a voice all its own with characters as distinct as any found in a Coen brothers movie. Picture this: John Goodman as The Dude's best friend, Walter, repeatedly yelling, "This is why you don't fuck a stranger in the ass!" into the still night air of a quiet suburban street as he punctuates each line by smashing a brand new Corvette with a tire iron. And let's not forget the Nihilists (yes, that's right, they don't believe in anything) led by the always dependable Peter Stormare flashing a katana in the film's climactic "showdown". What about The Dude himself? Jeff Bridges plays him with equal parts L.A. "meh" and righteous indignation about his stolen rug (it really tied the room together) all the while maintaining his "dudeness". My personal favorite: John Turturro as The Jesus. You just have to see him to believe it.

Bowling as a metaphor for life: it's all cyclical. Follow the path of the ball as it is thrown down the alley - it hurtles itself at the pins and the pins are knocked down; the ball seemingly disappears behind some façade as new pins are set up by some unseen machine; the ball mysteriously appears by your hand as you dry them above the air vents; and you throw your ball again. The best part: everybody has their turn. It's Zen. After all, life is hit or miss but The Dude abides.

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