El Duderino or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Abiding

Way out west, they made this film about a fella that I wanna tell ya about. A fella by the name of Jeff Lebowski. At least that was the name his parents gave him. It takes place back in the early 90s during the conflict with Sad’m and the I-raqis. Sometimes there’s a hero, well not a hero, The Dude is most certainly not that, but what’s a hero anyway? Anyway I’ve done lost my train of thought here. Aw hell I’ve introduced it enough.

I previously wrote about how the opening to Saving Private Ryan was the most powerful filmmaking in my opinion, but it’s not the one that has affected me the most. No, that honor goes to “The Big Lebowski.”

It all started one rainy night as my roommate/best friend and I had just arrived back at our residence hall, a dorm for those uninitiated into on campus housing, with 3 pizzas in hand and a couple 12 packs of cheap store brand cola. Soaking wet and hoping the pizzas were dry, we consulted about what to do next. (Ok so maybe it wasn’t raining but I like the dramatic effect.) Anyway we decided to fire up the Xbox and check out Netflix. Somehow we managed to find the movie that we now both list as our favorite.

The events after that are somewhat hazy as we ate pizza and devoured “The Big Lebowski.” From the beginning it had us snared, from Sam Elliot’s southern draw ushering into the next hour and 57 minutes of film to watching what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass. It kept us enthralled in way that the Coen Brothers have mastered; sharp dialogue, believable characters and a cynicism about life as experienced by one LA slacker.

So what is “The Big Lebowski?” In the simplest terms, it is the story of men out of place with the rapidly changing world of 1990s L.A., including an aging hippie, an old Vietnam vet who still is dealing with the war, and a man who only wants to live his life and bowl. The Dude (Jeff Bridges), Walter (John Goodman), and Donnie (Steve Buscemi), respectively, are the three musketeers who we come to sometimes love, occasionally hate, and often sympathize with. In more expressive terms, it is a Neo-Noir crime drama comedy character study.

Film Noir is a genre/style/period of cinema that is deeper than its reputation gives it credit for. It’s more than harsh shadows and a private detective. It is much more grounded in the psychology of men and the power of women. It is sexually charged and it presents the world in a harsher light than most cinema. This film in particular is a direct send up to “The Big Sleep,” a Bogart Noir from the late forties. While Jeff Bridge’s Dude may not be a direct Bogart impersonation his air of uncaring seems lifted from Bogart characters of past. The sexually charged dialogue and convoluted plot give this Neo-Noir it’s edge. The plot is a common place where the uninitiated get lost and condemn the film to their list of dislikes. They are truly missing the story for the plot and are more concerned with how everything ends, rather than the journey that got them there.

The characters are what drive this film, as we get annoyed with Walter’s antics and we sympathize with The Dude as he tries to rein in his best friend. However, we also see how much Walter cares for The Dude even though his “help” is much more of a detriment. Truly, it is Donnie who we as an audience should identify with. He is the silent observer who is there for only one purpose, to bowl. It’s also a common theme that Donnie is at best ignored or at worst forced out of a conversation. His opinions and actions represent much of how we as an audience are. The Coens do not care so much about our opinions as events move along, but simply that we are there watching this wild ride and there for the purpose which best suits them. We are simply along for the ride.

There are plenty of cult films, but few have the same following as this one. It has inspired a religion, helped popularize an alcoholic beverage, has inspired philosophy books, and has annual festivals. Watch the first interaction of the moment two people learn the other likes “The Big Lebowski.” It may sound like nonsense as they shout “OVER THE LINE” and “I am the walrus” but in reality, it is a greeting of two like-minds reminding each other of characters that have impacted their lives.

“The Big Lebowski” is not a film for everyone. It is often overlooked by many, being made between the Coen Brother’s “Fargo” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” but it is a film, which for fans is second to none in their catalog. Just remember, The Dude Abides.