A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

The Big Lebowski

October 22, 2010

The Big Lebowski

Back to Coen Brothers territory tonight! It’s another quirky comedy this time, but a quirky comedy as only Joel and Ethan can do it. I enjoyed this movie the first couple times I saw it but didn’t really grok it until I looked at the special features material on the disk here. It’s filled with crudity, drug humor, and a slew of irritating and unlikable characters. It didn’t quite gel for me, what with its kidnapping mystery, screaming rants, delirious dream sequences and completely tangential narration. It had moments I really enjoyed and I loved the character of the Dude, but on the whole the movie made no sense to me until I watched the special features which involve the Coen Brothers talking about the inspiration that drove them when they wrote the screenplay. Then it suddenly clicked into place for me and made perfect sense, and my enjoyment of the movie was vastly improved.

They explain that what they were creating was a Raymond Chandleresque mystery movie but with a completely inappropriate modern character taking the lead role. Instead of the tough as nails hard boiled Philip Marlowe caught up between the various factions represented here we have simply the Dude. The Dude who is introduced in the opening narration by Sam Elliott as possibly the laziest man alive. The Dude who glides through life in a pot induced haze with no ambition or goal until he finds himself thrust into the twisted plot of mystery and intrigue that is the rest of the movie.

It’s like a bizarre collision between to completely different genres. On the one hand the stoner comedy about a guy who just wants to bowl with his pals and on the other this serious Big Sleep style detective story. With some strange Coen Brothers surrealism thrown in for fun.

The truth is that I like the detective story more than the comedy buddy part. I’ll agree with Amanda, who finds John Goodman’s character Walter (the instigator of most that goes bad in the movie) almost unwatchably irritating. But the mystery, even though it is a spoof for the most part, feels remarkably faithful to the source material. Just look at what happens to the Dude in the course of his adventure: he gets abducted by the cold and mysterious daughter, he gets abducted by the shady porn producer, he gets slipped a mickey, he gets roughed up by a crooked police officer, he confronts a private detective who has been tailing him… it’s just a series of hard boiled movie tropes played out one after another. He even eventually gets the girl (in a strange sort of way.) What I find most delightful is that by the end of the movie, and against all possible expectation, the Dude turns out to be a pretty good detective. He starts to understand the rules of the strange world he’s been thrown into. When he finds his apartment ransacked after being drugged at the palatial home of Jackie Treehorn he instantly knows who it was that did it and why – without even having to think about it. He actually solves part of the mystery. You begin to get the sense that under different circumstances the Dude would make a pretty darn good Marlowe. (Maybe it’s just that he has the innate ability to find the path of least resistance and in this case that means finding his place in the narrative he’s in.)

There are plenty of things to love about this movie. Like the delirious dream sequences that the Dude falls into when he’s knocked unconscious. Like the witty soundtrack (which in an odd coincidence uses two songs from a mix tape my friend Christine once gave me – adding a whole other layer of nostalgia to the movie that the Coens could never have intended.) Like the great performances of the entire cast. Sure Goodman’s character is a complete asshole and fuckup, but he plays him with dedication and conviction. Jeff Bridges so embodies the Dude that he almost seems to have been typecast into that washed up hippie role ever since. Julianne Moore and her terrific Katherine Hepburn accent is a hoot to watch and steals every scene she’s in. Coen Brothers regulars Steve Buscemi and John Turturro both give unforgettable performances as the poor innocent doomed Donnie and the creepy Jesus. I think this was the first movie I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman in and I instantly loved him (he was probably my favorite part of Magnolia too – but that’s another review.)

This is a difficulty movie to like sometimes. I appreciate its unique and strange genius. I enjoy many of the stranger moments in the movie. I hate Walter, but I can mostly get past that. Watching this tonight has made me aware once again of some of the gaping holes in our collection. I wish we had The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, and To Have and Have Not. So many great movies out there we don’t have yet!

October 22, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,


  1. Great movies that feature rugs: The Big Lebowski, The Thief of Bagdad, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (?), The Pink Panther, Dial M for Murder, . . . ?

    Comment by Doc Wheat | October 23, 2010 | Reply

    • I don’t recall any rugs in Buckaroo. Shall we add Aladdin, or is that too derivative of Thief of Bagdad?

      Comment by tanatoes | October 23, 2010 | Reply

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