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After 20 Years, ‘The Big Lebowski’ Still Abides

After 20 Years, ‘The Big Lebowski’ Still Abides

[fade in on paragraph 1, cue voice of Great American Actor Sam Elliot]

So awhile back, way out in Hollywood, there premiered a movie I want to tell you about. A movie by the name of The Big Lebowski. You might know it as the film featuring Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski. I know it as my absolute favorite comedy of all time.

I have yet to meet anyone who first experienced the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski in a theater, probably because they were too busy either watching Titanic for the 50th time (it was in its 12th week at No. 1 when Lebowski was released) or the Men in Black/Blade crossover film U.S. Marshals (I didn’t IMDB the plot but I’m sure that’s right). The Big Lebowski was No. 6 at the box office its opening weekend, a spot it held the following week before plummeting like a bowling ball, disappearing overseas and never being heard from again.

Except, of course, it was. If you went to college sometime around the early 2000s, then there’s a good chance you met The Dude (Jeff Bridges), Donny (Steve Buscemi) and Walter (a never-better John Goodman—and yes, I have seen whatever Goodman role you think is superior, and all I have to say is: That’s just, like, your opinion, man). Maybe you watched The Big Lebowski on one of those newfangled DVD players your roommate had. Maybe you saw the edited version that ran on Comedy Central. Maybe you stumbled across it at Blockbuster (!).

Over time, enough college students saw The Big Lebowski, convinced themselves they were the only ones to understand its greatness, and turned it into one of those movies—the kind with costumed midnight showings where people yell the lines together. But Lebowski isn’t a film you like ironically; its loved for its density.

I’ve seen the movie at least 15 times, yet I still notice things I haven’t seen before. When two hired goons break into The Dude’s apartment looking for money, one of them says, “Ever thus to deadbeats Lebowski!” I did some research. The line references a Latin phrase yelled at both Abraham Lincoln and Julius Caesar as they were assassinated. In Lebowski, it’s uttered while an Asian-American (the correct nomenclature) pees on a rug.  

The level of care the Coen brothers put into a stoner movie is insane. Nearly every line of The Dude’s dialogue is him regurgitating—often incorrectly, always out of context—something he heard before. The convoluted, mistaken-identity-meets-kidnapping plot spirals and twists and barely holds up, but who cares? Lebowski taught me what a marmot was (a large squirrel), and the word “micturated,” a synonym for urinating.

This is maybe the most quotable movie ever: “This isn’t Vietnam, there are rules!” “Shomre Shabbos!” “Do you see what happens, Larry?” “Grown men also cry.” “Life does not stop and start at your convenience.” There are others, of course, but those are the ones without curse words.

Lebowski has the most underrated Philip Seymour Hoffman role, the best use of “Hotel California” in a movie, and a character named “The Jesus” who is less sacrilegious than he sounds. This is a movie that puts highbrow philosophy jokes (“He’s a nihilist.” “That must be exhausting.”) side-by-side with stoner jokes, simply because the juxtaposition is amusing. It also has the best use of a bowling-ball camera you’ll ever see during what might best be described as a CTE-induced fever dream involving Julianne Moore and anthropomorphic scissors (Don’t worry, The Dude has his brain checked out by a doctor, who is both a good man and thorough).

They call these movies “cult films” because the amount of intense, obsessive passion they stir up in fans convinces all the non-believers that those fans must be crazy. But that’s the thing: That dismissal only pushes the fans closer together, toward a level of self-obsessive, identity-seeking unity that can only be found in the rarest of spaces. Outsiders are never going to understand. They just don’t get it, man.

In a time when what we’re watching as a society is more fragmented than ever, the moments when we find a shared obsession are all the more special. Cult films not only create a shared passion, but a shared set of values, and Lebowski takes a stand on important issues. Not stealing a stranger’s car is good. Being a fascist, a fan of The Eagles or a misogynist is bad (He treats objects like women, man!).

This sort of cult film, and that urge to connect, is why I’ve spent 800 words ranting about Lebowski’s greatness. The story doesn’t really matter here, but the vibe does. I just want you to feel the awesomeness. My biggest concern is I haven’t referenced enough of my favorite lines.

So forgive me if I’m being very un-dude by coming on too strong. The Big Lebowski is my favorite comedy of all-time, and it could be yours, too—we can share it—if you’ll let it into your heart. And if not, well then forget it. Let’s go bowling.

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