“The Cohen brothers’ “The Big Lebowski” is a genial, shambling comedy about a human trainwreck, and should come with a warning like the one Mark Twain attached to ‘Huckleberry Finn’: “Persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.” – Roger Ebert (1998)
True to the film critic’s, Roger Ebert, review of the film, The Big Lebowski is an experimental film that challenges the standard Hollywood directing style, if not a mockery. If the audience is expecting for a comprehensive story that is common to most films, this will be a big disappointment with them indeed. The Big Lebowski, a 1998 comedy film, was craftily created with the cinematic skills of Ethan and Joel Cohen. This film has no intention to project any moral obligation to preach or justify the film with its inclusive elements and construction. The Big Lebowksi is it is as it is meant to be told by its creators. It may be a mess to some but it’s a frank and honest yet entertaining movie that offers raw and awkward humor.
Mistaken to be the big Lebowski, Jeff Lebowski was assaulted by two men who were claiming that they were sent to collect money from Lebowski’s wife. They have beaten him and peed on his rug. Eventually they have learned that they picked the wrong Lebowski and left. Encouraged by his friend Walter to seek compensation with the peed rug, they pursue to find the big Lebowski. The Dude’s request was rejected and he was even insulted by the big Lebowski. Days later, the big Lebowski’s wife was kidnapped, and he made arrangement with the Dude to be the courier of the ransom money in exchange of his request.
Series of misfortunate events upon their delivery of the ransom money to the kidnappers, the Dude learned many things about the truth behind the alleged kidnapping. There was no kidnapping happened, as Bunny just went to a vacation trip with a friend, and it was revealed that the big Lebowski had orchestrated the whole thing – this was his plan to get the supposed ransom money from his first wife’s account and used the Dude to be the fall guy to deliver the fake suitcase. Walter had physically assaulted the big Lebowski and near end they had a fight with a nihilist’s group. Donny died of heart attack in the process. After saying eulogy and scatter Donny’s ashes, the Dude and Walter headed back to their bowling routine session.
The film has a perfect casting to portray the main idiosyncratic characters, perhaps because Cohen brothers had gathered fine actors such as Jeff Bridges and John Goodman. The actors had really synched in with the characters they were portraying. Perhaps the Cohen brothers had in mind the actors’ personalities while writing the film’s characters i.e. Tara Reid being the reckless and mindless trophy wife and Julianne Moore as an intelligent yet pretentious feminist and an artist.
The main protagonist of the film is Jeff Lebowski but preferred himself to be called The Dude. The Dude is portrayed by Jeff Bridges. The Dude is a type B personality who can be easily discern as perpetual bum, cares little about money and cares only for bowling with his equally type B friends. It was reported that the Cohen brothers had written The Dude slightly based on Bridges character for being laid-back and slacking perspective in life. However, it was also revealed that the main influence of the character of the Dude was based on the film distributor that Cohen brothers had met named Jeff Dowd. Much like the Dude in the movie, Dowd was also called “The Dude”, fond of drinking White Russians, and shares physical appearance of the Dude on-screen: shaggy long hair, way of dressing, etc. Another reference for the Dude’s character is the Cohen brothers’ friend, Peter Exline, a Vietnam War veteran who also has a thing for rugs.
The Dude has a main best friend named Walter Sobchak and was played by John Goodman. Walter is also a Vietnam War veteran and is The Dude’s teammate. He values the rules of bowling second to the doctrines of Judaism. He has a bad temper and always resort to handgun to settle for any arguments.
Donny Kerabatsos is another friend of the Dude and a member of his bowling team. He is played by Steve Buscemi. Among the main three lead, Donny is the good-natured one. His most notable trait is being naïve, unable to grasp a whole sentence particularly from Walter, and was often interrupted by Walter to shut up. It was revealed by the Cohen brothers that Donny was a reference of Buscemi’s character in Fargo where he speaks non-stop. Donny died of heart-attack in the end of the film.
Jeffrey Lebowski is the big Lebowski and was played by David Huddleston. He is not related to the Dude but came across him when Jackie Treehorn men mistakenly assaulted the Dude for thinking he was the big Lebowski. He is a wheelchair-bound multi-millionaire who despises the Dude for being “the bum” as he often referred to him. However, it was eventually revealed by Maude, his daughter, that he was just tasked to look over for his first wife’s real estate.
Maude Lebowski is the big Lebowski daughter in his first wife and was played by Julianne Moore. Maude is an ultramodern artist and a feminist who often justify her work as “strongly vaginal.” She had conceived a child at the end of the film by her own will courtesy of the Dude.
Bunny Lebowski is a young, nymphomaniac, and reckless wife of the big Lebowski who was kidnapped by the pornographer and nihilist whom she’s indebted with the. She was played by Tara Reid.
The Big Lebowski had fair share of notable technical features mostly on its camera angle and with the soundtrack used.
As reviewed by many film critics, The Big Lebowski was backed up by an “eclectic” soundtrack. It is engaged heavily with pop music; from opening with “Tumbling Tweeds” to the “Hotel California” by the Gipsy Kings. The selection of soundtrack seems arranged based on the appearance of the characters like the Crudence’s song used in the scene with The Dude. It appears that the selection of music was purposely chosen to indicate musical signatures for each of the characters. Although mainly engaged with pop, it is evident as well that the music selection had resonance the retro sounds of the sixties and seventies.
Camera Works. The Big Lebowski will also be remembered with its parody on film noir. It is executed through overdoing subjective-camera close-up in some scenes particularly when The Dude was conversing with Jackie Treehorn. Even if the audience may not aware about film noir, the exaggeration of and sudden zooming of camera to focus in a contextual detail in some scenes will surely bring laughs due to its intended absurdity.
Many are trying to compare The Big Lebowski (1998) to Fargo (1994), both are films of the Cohen Brothers. Those who had expected The Big Lebowski to be like the Academy Award nominated film, Fargo, were greatly disappointed. Of course, this is the style of the Coen brothers. They have never done the same thing twice in a row. However, The Big Lebowksi shares some common style of humor with another Cohen brothers’ film, Burn After Reading, with its almost senseless and confusing plot – it there is any.
Although it is poor in plot, which is purposely designed to be, the crafty humor compensates with to make the film enough to be hailed as the most audacious comedy during the late ‘90s. It is evident to its one of the most entertaining element of the movie, which is the mockery of voice-over narration. Not only its sarcastic rant that made it unique to the film, but the narration had added to the comic effect of the film rather than assisting the delivery of story though exposition to the audience. Even without its narration, the story may survive but the humor will not. All in, most of the humor was provided by The Dude due to his ineptitude and its result.
Common style of Cohen brothers’ films are promoting losery-characters as their main heroes. This was effectively utilized in The Big Lebowski. Had the film used different kind of characters as their leas, it won’t be appealing and the humor will be ill-fitted, not to mention that it won’t be Cohen brothers’ film anymore. An example of the effectiveness of The Due with its humor is the ransom-kidnap scenes. For obvious reason, he is the worst choice in handling the ransom money in the kidnapping case of the rich Lebowski’s wife. Upon doing what is told to him, he was supported by his equally-loser friends that made the situation worst as one is trigger-happy, and the other has a vacuum brain. It is deemed perfect as the film is not rooting for absolute resolution to depict the humor in every awkward situation. The humor that is the result of “what if” approach.
The Cohen brothers wanted to let the audience experience what’s going on to the characters, not necessarily selling them but to capture the emotions and comical relief that every situation is telling. They want audience to gain information whenever the lead does, and to confuse the audience whenever he does, which is almost the entire film.
The Chicago Reader’s film critic, Jonathan Rosenbaum had written that, “the Coens’ relative styling of their figures invariably does–it’s an elitist one, elevating salt-of-the-earth types like Bridges and Goodman, over everyone else in the movie.”