Fighting or embracing nostalgia. It’s what everyone does (I guess, who am I to say really). We either live in the glory of the past, or the past haunts us like a once-loved, now-soiled rug. Especially in film, we fight nostalgia at almost every turn only to give in when it fully suits our memories (for me it’s regrettably “Like Mike” (2002)). The essence of the irreverent Coen comedy masterpiece “The Big Lebowski” (1998) is the protest of personal growth, vulnerability, and most of all the future. Nostalgia and fear of the future can even unite the most eccentric and unlikely of comic friends: The Dude (Jeff Bridges) and Walter (John Goodman).
They collectively represent an entire generation of American culture. The Dude, a hippie activist and protestor of the ’70s, is a hippie by dress and drawl but now mostly bowls in the ‘90s. Walter, who seems fresh off the boat from the Vietnam War, now spends his nights at the bowling alley with The Dude reminiscing about (or actively living in) the war-torn days of his past. Perhaps the most human attribute the Coens ever realized can be seen in the intersection and intimate friendship of these oppositely disposed characters.
The emotional core of the story lies in their friendship and the tone of the film. The plot itself though is comprised of a pee-ridden rug, two Lebowskis, a kidnapping, a ransom letter, Jackie Treehorn’s pornography conglomerate, bowling, highs and lows, dream sequences, a ferret (or marmot) in a bathtub, strangers, nihilists, and deceit.
Past that, I won’t go into the story if you haven’t seen it. The convolutions of the plot mechanisms alone would not only be hard to articulate but also would be just plain boring to read. The plot is not the point. It is a character study. Or maybe the study of a relationship.
“The Big Lebowski” is ultimately about two men struggling to confront the present and develop their lives into anything more than what they already have. Their contentedness could be entirely intentional because they feel their lives have already peaked and now they can just coast through the remaining years.
The Coens’ choice to make this a period piece of sorts is an effective realization of the film's intention. The movie is set when it is and isn’t going to budge or change. It will age comfortably, and in this case profitably, not only as a big middle-finger and lit joint to the turn of the century, but as a relevant and hilarious reflection of the time in which it lives. Just as The Dude and Walter stand mostly as a reflection of the past in which they live.
If you don’t like it, remember “That’s just, like, your opinion, man.”
The Dude Abides.
- One thing I wanted to discuss but couldn’t fit in was the idea of this film microcosm of the whole of the Coens’ work. It crosses genre and style, bringing it big and small characters, and is bolstered by an overwhelming sense of fun and intimacy in the cinematography and performances by the all-star cast.
- It’s not exactly an under-appreciated film so I don’t really feel the need to champion it, but I would urge those that have only seen it once and maybe don’t know how to feel to watch it again. Something about the Coens’ comedy makes the jokes better when you know what’s coming and aren’t just overwhelmed by the sheer multitude.
- I’ve actually seen this too many times in the past year (yes, that is possible) and now I found myself often over-dissecting which kind of ruins the whole point of the movie. It stands as a slap in the face to the idea of criticism and over-analysis, even though there is loads to unpack here.