“Now this here story I’m about to unfold took place back in the early ’90s – just about the time of our conflict with Sad’m and the I-raqis. I only mention it because sometimes there’s a man… I won’t say a hero, ’cause, what’s a hero? But sometimes, there’s a man. And I’m talkin’ about the Dude here. Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that’s the Dude, in Los Angeles. And even if he’s a lazy man – and the Dude was most certainly that. Quite possibly the laziest in Los Angeles County, which would place him high in the runnin’ for laziest worldwide. But sometimes there’s a man, sometimes, there’s a man. Aw. I lost my train of thought here.”
These words are taken from the opening narration that introduces us to the be-robed L.A. slacker Jeff “the Dude” Lebowski (played quite convincingly by Jeff Bridges). A man who’s mistaken for a wealthy cripple wheelchair-bound man named Jeffrey Lebowski, a.k.a., “the Big Lebowski” (played by David Huddleston), whose wife Bunny owes money to pornographer Jackie Treehorn (played by Ben Gazzara). And the whole plot is set in motion when Treehorn’s thugs come to collect from the Dude, look around his crappy apartment, and realize—duh!—they got the wrong guy! So they leave, but not before the Chinaman Asian-American one pees on Dude’s rug.
So the Dude tells his bowling pals Walter (played by John Goodman) and Donny (played by Steve Buscemi) about the incident, almost in passing, and Walter (not being the most laid-back guy) feels insulted on Dude’s part and insists that the Dude seek recompense from the Big Lebowski. After all, that rug really tied the room together.
Without going into all the ins and outs (no pun intended!) of the film, let’s just say that the Dude may be one of the most passive protagonists I’ve ever seen. Every twist and turn of the plot occurs because the Dude is spurred into action by something someone else says or does. As such, he’s more of a reactive protagonist than an active one. He even tends to parrot the words that others say to him.
According to Wikipedia, Joel Coen said of the film, “We wanted to do a Chandler kind of story—how it moves episodically, and deals with the characters trying to unravel a mystery, as well as having a hopelessly complex plot that’s ultimately unimportant.” Well, the Coens succeeded there.
Along with the Coen Brothers’ penchant for using blackmail as a plot device, one could view Jeffrey Lebowski as a kind of faux-Colonel Sternwood (faux in more ways than one) and Bunny as a modern-day Carmen Sternwood (as I recall, both of them dabbled in pornography—so Bunny’s like Carmen, minus the gambling debts). The requisite lawman warns the Dude off the case in a rather physical way—only in this film, it’s the Sheriff of Malibu County telling the Dude to keep “his gold brickin’ ass” out of “his quiet beach community”.
It’s a hilarious film, not only because it parodies the hard-boiled film noir mystery, while making a quick aside to Hitchcock’s North by Northwest during the scene in Treehorn’s Malibu beach house, but it manages to work the word “fuck” (or variations thereof) 292 times. The word “dude” appears 161 times and the Dude says “man” 147 times or nearly one and a half times per minute.
Bridges and Goodman play off each other, as well as Buscemi, with a natural rhythm that speaks well of the acting and the script.
And the soundtrack is from an amazing discography of songs, ranging from pop music hits to cowboy music to classical.
Besides, what’s not to like about a movie that includes nihilists, surreal dream sequences, Ralph’s, Creedence, the world’s angriest cabdriver, and the In-N-Out Burger?
Plus Sam Elliott as The Stranger—a man in a cowboy get-up who narrates the story and orders the occasional sarsaparilla.
Finally, according to IMDb.com, “The Dude’s line, ‘The Dude abides,’ is a reference to Ecclesiastes 1:4, ‘One generation passes away, and another generation comes: but the earth abides forever.’ It is a reference to how the Dude, much like the Earth, can weather change and chaos around him, but still remain the same.”
Well, I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that. 🙂
Although Wikipedia calls this a “crime comedy”, I think it’s a brilliant parody and homage to film noir. It is also a must-see cult classic film!