By Kirby Davis, For The Miami Student
Given that there are over 64 million Netflix subscribers, and Oxford no longer has a working movie theatre, we’ll be bringing you weekly movie reviews solely about films available to stream on Netflix. Happy Netflix-ing.
“The Big Lebowski” is a trippy, fantastical crime drama whose events can all be traced back to an unfortunate case of mistaken identity — and a rug.
The film, first released in 1998 and written and directed by the Coen brothers, begins with two men breaking into Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski’s dingy Los Angeles-area house. They assault him and demand to know where “the money” is, only to find out that they’ve found the wrong Jeffrey Lebowski. One of the thugs urinates on his rug, and they leave.
“The Dude” (Jeff Bridges) is understandably upset by this, and tracks down the Lebowski he was confused for. A dour, decrepit millionaire, this Lebowski (David Huddleston) is The Dude’s polar opposite. The Dude, a disheveled, self-proclaimed pacifist who scoffs in response to the question, “Are you employed,” simply wants restitution for his soiled rug.
Yet when Bunny (Tara Reid), the “Big” Lebowski’s gold-digging younger wife is supposedly kidnapped, the Dude is recruited to deliver her ransom money (no less than $1 million) and identify the perpetrators.
This seems easy enough, but nothing ever goes right for the Dude and his friends — hostile Vietnam veteran, Walter (John Goodman), and naive, frequently confused, Donny (Steve Buscemi.). None of the hapless, money-hungry trio’s schemes quite work out. Although, once a second gang of bandits, a porn industry scandal, and the “Big” Lebowski’s brazen feminist daughter Maude (Julianne Moore) are introduced, it’s entertaining to see them try.
“The Big Lebowski” is abstract, but not hard to follow. The film has a gritty, intimate feel to it, interspersed with drug-fueled fantasy sequences. It opens with a tumbleweed on a solitary tour of Los Angeles, and twangy narration by “The Stranger” (Sam Elliott). This establishes a classic, old western feel to the narrative, despite being set in the early ’90s.
The film also offers a glimpse into all kinds of life in the greater Los Angeles area. Several scenes take place in the bowling alley where The Dude, Walter and Donny spend most of their time, highlighting the beer bellies and rough competition, narrated by angsty folk songs. This contrasts sharply with scenes that feature the millionaire Lebowski and his home, which are well lit, extravagant and accompanied by lofty opera music.
‘Lebowski’ also features an indistinct good guy vs. bad guy narrative, as is common for writer-director-producers Joel and Ethan Coen. While two groups -— a pack of German nihilists and pawns of a porn industry tycoon — are clearly villains, the “heroes” of the story aren’t exactly commendable citizens either. Walter is furiously combative, and it’s his unabashed greed that botches The Dude’s only job.
The Dude himself means well but is extraordinarily lazy, and his only form of identification is a Ralph’s Value Club card. There’s a particularly interesting scene in which he visits the “Big” Lebowski’s office for the first time, and catches a glimpse of himself in a mirror, designed to look like a copy of Time magazine.
The reflection appears to be the cover, and the headline reads “Man of the Year.” The Dude sees, in this moment and in the rest of the time he spends with the “Big” Lebowski, how insignificant his life seems in comparison. Yet he remains content with repeatedly being called a “deadbeat” and leads an unapologetically lazy lifestyle. He wears loose hoodies and inside-out pajamas with purpose, lounging his way through life.
Still, it’s impossible not to root for Walter, The Dude and Donny, even considering their attempted thievery and general incompetence. Competing against two gangs of thugs and a merciless millionaire, they inevitably take on the role of the underdogs, and one has to admire their resilience.
I thoroughly enjoyed this film. It’s introspective but not boring, fast-paced but not confusing, and darkly hilarious. It evolves from what initially seems to be a buddy comedy to an elaborate, clever crime story. “The Big Lebowski” is eccentric, to put it mildly, and utterly original. I doubt any future film will be capable of imitating it.
“The Big Lebowski” is currently available to stream on Netflix.