Joel and Ethan Coen are on the forefront of a very small group of directors working in Hollywood with a completely unique creative vision. The Coens make films for themselves that exist in their own little twisted universe. If people enjoy spending time in that universe, that’s good, but the Coens never seem like they care very much about how people feel about their films. This bizarre sensibility and lack of caution has led to a string of consistently brilliant movies over the past two decades or so.
They hit what was arguably their creative peak in the mid-90s with the one-two punch of 1996’s Fargo and 1998’s The Big Lebowski. Both, in their own ways, are uproariously funny. However, while Fargo has elements of action and drama, Lebowski is pure farce, and it is the opinion of many that it is one of the funniest comedies of the entire decade.
It is hard to even begin to describe what exactly The Big Lebowski is about. At base level, it is simply about Jeffrey Lebowski, a.k.a. “The Dude” (Jeff Bridges), a California man stuck in the ’60s who does nothing but smoke pot and bowl with his two best friends Walter (John Goodman) and Donnie (Steve Buscemi). The Dude’s life changes when, one day, he is mistaken for another man named Jeffery Lebowski, whose wife owes money to a porn king. The porn king’s thugs come to The Dude’s house and decide to relieve themselves all over his favorite rug. The remainder of the movie chronicles The Dude’s quest to get his rug back or get reimbursed for it.
This being a Coen brothers movie, however, all kinds of crazy things get thrown into the mix, including some German Nihilists, a kidnapping that may or may not be fake, a severed toe of undetermined origin and several truly bizarre dream sequences.
It’s hard to determine whether someone will like this film. It is not for everyone. There are some people out there who prefer their humor to be precisely laid out for them. They like to be told exactly when to laugh, right on cue. Lebowski, however, is much more rich and subtle, and sometimes requires multiple viewings to fully digest.
Recurring jokes include The Dude’s steadfast preference in alcoholic beverages (White Russians) and the ongoing destruction of his car.
The comic performances in the film are all amazingly inspired. Jeff Bridges fully inhabits The Dude. John Goodman has never been better. Steve Buscemi does a great job playing against type as the quiet, mousy Donnie. Lastly, Philip Seymour Hoffman is great as always in a small part as the other Lebowski’s butler. John Turturro steals every scene he’s in as a flamboyant bowler named Jesus.
The cast seemed to completely share the directors’ vision. The writing is top notch, and the direction is inspired. As previously stated, this movie will not appeal to everyone, but those who haven’t seen this and prefer their comedy a tad more offbeat and bizarre may have just found their new favorite movie.
Chuck DelRoss can be reached at Cdelross@temple.edu.