Saturday, November 12, 2011

Stubs - The Big Lebowski

THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998) Starring: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, John Turturo. Directed by Joel Coen. Written by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen Produced by Ethan Coen. Music by Carter Burwell. Run Time: 119 minutes. Color. U.S., Comedy

This is one of those films whose legacy seems to grow year after year. While it would not be considered a box office success when it was first released, it has become a cultural icon, even to the point of being referenced in a recent My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic episode. When Jeff Bridges is mocked on Saturday Night Live, it is The Dude character from this film that gets used. It is one of those films that has flourished in home entertainment release.

THE BIG LEBOWSKI, which Wikipedia states as being loosely based on Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, is perhaps as confusing as that book’s best known adaptation, Warner Bros. 1946 version starring Humphrey Bogart. While the film is funny in places, it is overstuffed with characters and plot points.

Jeff Lebowski, aka The Dude, is mistaken for another man with the same name by two thugs who come to collect money that his wife, Bunny, owes a man named Jackie Treehorn. The Dude is intimidated to the point of having his rug urinated on, but he finally convinces them that they have the wrong guy. But The Dude is still short one rug and he turns to his bowling partners, Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) and Donny Kerabatsos (Steve Buscemi) for advice. They come to the conclusion that the other Jeff Lebowski aka The Big Lebowski (David Huddleston) owes The Dude a new rug.

To hear The Big Lebowski talk, he is a self-made man who has overcome losing the use of his legs to become a titan of industry. He does not see that he owes The Dude anything and kicks him up. But The Dude manages to take a replacement rug on his way out. Also on his way out, The Dude meets Bunny (Tara Reid), The Big Lebowski’s much younger trophy wife.

It is not too long before The Dude hears back from The Big Lebowski. Bunny has been kidnapped and he wants The Dude to handle the million dollar ransom payment for him. The logic is that The Dude will be able to identify if the kidnappers are the same thugs who ruined his rug. However, it is not long before a different set of thugs break in to The Dude’s apartment, knock him unconscious and steal his new rug. When he is contacted by the kidnappers, who are identified as German nihilists, The Dude brings along Walter. 

Walter has his own idea and tries to convince The Dude to swap the ransom money for a briefcase of his dirty laundry. Over The Dude’s protests, the kidnappers take the ringer and leave The Dude and Walter with the million dollars. They don’t get to do anything with the money, because The Dude’s car is stolen that night from the bowling alley parking lot. Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore) the Big Lebowski’s daughter, contacts The Dude and he goes to her art studio. She tells The Dude that she stole back the rug The Dude had stolen, because it belonged to her mother. 

She tells The Dude that Bunny is a porn star who has worked for Jackie Treehorn. And Maude confirms The Dude’s suspicion that Bunny kidnapped herself to get the money she owes. Maude wants The Dude to get back the million dollars, because her father has embezzled it from a family charity to pay the ransom.

The Big Lebowski is not happy with The Dude over failing to deliver the ransom. The kidnappers have sent a toe that is supposed to be Bunny’s. When he gets home, The Dude has a message that his car has been found, but before he can retrieve it, three people invade his house, claiming to be the kidnappers and demanding their money or else they will hurt him. The Dude returns to Maude, who tells him that the kidnappers are not only Bunny’s friends, but also a failed German electronic band, a la Kraftwerk.

When The Dude picks up his car, the money is gone and the police are no help. The Dude finds a test paper from the perpetrator of the theft, a teenager named Larry Sellers. When The Dude and Walter go to Larry’s house, the teenager says nothing, even though there is a new car parked in front of his house. Walter tries to intimate the kid, by taking a crowbar to his car. But the car ends up belonging to a neighbor, who takes revenge on The Dude’s car.

But Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazarra) is not through with The Dude. His thugs bring The Dude to Jackie’s Malibu home. Jackie still wants his money and offers The Dude a cut if he gets it for him. For some reason, Jackie drugs The Dude’s drink, which leads to one of the movie’s most surreal passages. In his drugged out state, The Dude has a dream that is laced with references to bowling, the Persian Gulf War and Maude’s art. The Dude wakes up while running down the street, which naturally gets the attention of the Malibu police. After being assaulted by the police chief, The Dude is kicked out of his taxi home when he complains that the driver is playing the Eagles.

When he finally gets home, he finds that his apartment has been gone through by Jackie’s thugs and that Maude is waiting for him. She seduces him so that she can get pregnant by him; though she tells him she wants him to have no part in raising the child. In their post-coitus conversation, she reveals that her father, despite his appearances, has no money. Her late mother was the rich one and she left everything to the family charity. In an epiphany, The Dude realizes that The Big Lebowski never gave him the million dollars in the first place and would have been happy to have the kidnappers kill Bunny, whom he had grown tired of having around and to pin the theft of the money on The Dude.

When The Dude and Walter go to The Big Lebowski’s house to confront him, they find that Bunny has returned on her unannounced get away. Thinking things are finally over, the boys go bowling. But the kidnappers, who had used Bunny’s trip as a ruse for the ransom, still want their money. When they say they’ll settle for what the boys have on them, Walter still fights them. While the German nihilists are vanquished, Donny has a heart attack and dies.

The movie ends, where else, at the bowling alley, where The Dude and Walter go after spreading Donny’s ashes. All is apparently resolved, so the narrator/The Stranger (Sam Elliott) tells us.

Even a detailed synopsis doesn’t cover everything going on in this movie. The film is character driven as opposed to plot. Chief among them is The Dude, around which the film revolves. The Dude is sleepwalking through life high on a combination of pot and White Russians. He is almost never without a White Russian in his hands, even if he has to make it with non-dairy coffee creamer rather than half and half. The Dude, though, remains unchanged by the events of the movie, as do all the main characters, save Donny who dies.

Walter is perhaps the most complex character of the film. A rather stupid hot head, he can’t get over the Vietnam war. He shows great reverence to two sets of rules: those of bowling and Judaism, even though, in the case of the latter, he was born a Catholic. Walter is really the one that gets The Dude in trouble and keeps him there throughout the movie. He tries to settle arguments by pulling a gun or crowbar.

Perhaps the problem I have with the movie can be best summed up in John Turturo’s Jesus character, or as he refers to himself The Jesus. He is part of a team that The Dude’s team will meet in the bowling league’s tournament. But like his character, Seymour Simmons, in the three recent Transformers movies, Jesus is superfilous to the film and really gets in the way more than anything else.

And this film is filled with interesting but unnecessary characters, which only take away from the plot, not add to it. Bowling partner Donny; the Big Lebowski’s assistant, Brandt (Philip Seymour Hoffman); Video artist Knox Harrington (David Thewlis); Private Detective Da Fine (Jon Polito); and apartment manager wannabe dancer Marty (Jack Kehler) are all interesting, but not needed. It is as if the Coen Brothers tried to make a part for actors they admired or knew, but didn’t really have anything for them to do. There is a lot of talent that seems to get wasted on bit parts in THE BIG LEBOWSKI.

It comes down to what I would consider to be problems with the script. An overly complicated plot with too many characters with the results that nothing really changed, except Donny’s dead and The Dude is down a rug and a car. This was a story that while interesting doesn’t really say anything or have a purpose. While BIG LEBOWSKI’s narrator tells us that all the loose ends have been wrapped up, much of it is not. Perhaps this film is best viewed not with a bag of popcorn and a coke, but with a joint and a White Russian. Maybe then it would all make sense.

No comments:

Post a Comment