#166) The Big Lebowski (1998)


#166) The Big Lebowski (1998)

OR “Farewell, My Rug-ly”

Directed by Joel Coen

Written by Joel & Ethan Coen

Class of 2014

The Plot: The Dude (Jeff Bridges) is an L.A. stoner who shares his real name with local millionaire Jeff Lebowski (David Huddleston). When the Dude is attacked by thugs who think he’s the other Lebowski, he gets mixed up in a plot involving Lebowski’s kidnapped wife (Tara Reid). Along for the ride are the Dude’s friend and angry Vietnam vet Walter (John Goodman), Lebowski’s estranged daughter Maude (Julianne Moore), a bowling tournament, some White Russians, and a rug that really tied the room together.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film’s chapters “alternately funny and disturbing”, hails the Coens as “unconventional visionaries” and deems Bridges’ performance “career-defining”. There’s also an essay by J.M. Tyree & Ben Walters, who have written several books about films, including one on “The Big Lebowski”. So, ya know, they’re qualified.

But Does It Really?: While I’m not as fanatic about this film as some are, “The Big Lebowski” is still one of the Coens’ better works. The film’s genre-bending keeps it fresh, with a script that praises Raymond Chandler without being slavish or too uptight. The entire cast is flawless, with Jeff Bridges, like the Dude himself, giving you a lot of layers underneath that laid-back exterior. It’s not the best Coen Brothers film, nor the funniest film ever, but the Dude abides, and “Lebowski” deserves a spot on the list.

Shout Outs: Several noir references throughout, including “Double Indemnity” and Chandler’s own “The Big Sleep”. Plus a nod to “42nd Street“!

Everybody Gets One: Coen Brothers staple John Goodman, Future Oscar Winners Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julianne Moore, early ‘00s It Girl Tara Reid and, via archival footage, President George H.W. Bush.

Wow, That’s Dated: Such late ‘90s relics as answering machines and phone books. Plus the dream sequences include some early CG bowling balls and pins.

Title Track: The Dude refers to “the big Lebowski” just twice throughout the entire film. That’s right, it turns out David Huddleston was the title character this whole time.

Seriously, Oscars?: Well something had to follow “Fargo”. Perhaps this film’s release just a year after the Coens won an Oscar for the “Fargo” screenplay raised the bar too high for “Lebowski”. The film was met with critical and commercial apprehension, leading to zero Oscar nominations. There were, however, a few precursor awards (such as the Online Film Critics Society) that took notice: the first to join the cult of the Dude.

Other notes

  • Co-editor Tricia Cooke is married to Ethan Coen. She shares her editing credit with the elusive Roderick Jaynes.
  • You call them Ralphs, we in the Bay Area call them Foods Co.
  • Bridges performance is fantastic. He really lures you in right from the beginning.
  • This whole post could be me singling out each cast member; they’re all so good. John Goodman practically steals the show from Bridges, Steve Buscemi and Phillip Seymour Hoffman make the most out of parts that don’t spring to life on the page. Julianne Moore gets to play a character so radically different from her other work, David Huddleston finally gets a meaty role after decades of character parts, and don’t even get me started on the meal John Turturro makes of The Jesus.
  • I unapologetically love The Gipsy Kings.
  • This film and “Anchorman” have got to be the most quotable comedies of the last 20 years. Speaking of, when is “Anchorman” coming to the NFR?
  • Shoutout to cinematographer Roger Deakins, especially for the shot from the bowling ball’s point of view. How does he still not have an Oscar?
  • Is Julianne Moore doing a Katharine Hepburn impression?
  • That’s stand-up comic Dom Irrera as the limo driver. “You know me, can’t complain.” His stand-up is pretty solid.
  • Like so many of the recent films on this list, don’t watch “The Big Lebowski” on basic cable. Unless you want to know what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps.
  • Metallica band member Kirk Hammett was pleased that Metallica was referenced in the film, even though the Dude calls the band “a bunch of assholes”. On the flip side, Eagles member Glenn Frey did not appreciate the Dude’s dislike of his music.
  • For all of this film’s quotable moments, the one I’ve used the most is “Stay away from my lady friend”. Don’t ask me why, but that’s the one that sticks.
  • Does Bunnie have “Viva Las Vegas” playing on a loop in her car?
  • Oh Sam Elliott: to be blessed with that combination of voice and moustache. Like the Dude’s damaged rug, Elliott really ties the film together, does he not?


  • The film’s fandom and midnight screenings have led to the annual “Lebowski Fest”, a gathering and celebration of all things Lebowski. You don’t see this kind of fandom with “The Last Picture Show”, that’s for sure.
  • Some films have cult followings, “The Big Lebowski” has a religion. Dudeism (aka the Church of the Latter-Day Dude) was founded in 2005 and has its share of followers. Like any new religion, give it 1000 years to catch on.
  • Jeff Bridges’ band The Abiders take their name from one of the Dude’s most iconic lines.
  • “Noodles, we’re in that movie you made me watch.” “Shhhhh. You’re ruining it, like so many other dudes have over the years by quoting it.”
  • While the Coens have vowed to never make a sequel, John Turturro has been given permission to make a film revolving around his character, Jesus Quintana. “Going Places” has been filmed, but no release date has been set, and all we have right now is a Wikipedia page and this photo. What say you, readers from the future?

Listen to This: “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”, the Stranger’s leitmotif, was the signature song for Roy Rogers’ singing group Sons of the Pioneers. The group first recorded “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” in 1934, and the song found a place on the National Recording Registry in 2010.

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