Since I first saw Raising Arizona, I have been a huge fan of Joel and Ethan Coen. In my opinion, they are two of the finest directors not just today but of all time. From Miller’s Crossing to No Country For Old Men I have loved and praised their work.
However, there has always been a movie by them that I somehow haven’t seen: The Big Lebowski. I never had a good or reasonable excuse to tell anyone why I have not watched it, something that I have been rather embarrassed about. So on last Thursday (which was, coincidently, during the film’s 15th anniversary), I finally saw the film with lofty expectations.
The Big Lebowski did not disappoint. If anything, I would argue it is the Coen brothers’ best movie, topping Fargo and even No Country For Old Men. It may just the best and funniest comedy of all time, and this is coming from a pair of directors who have made many great comedies.
The Big Lebowski is about a slacker named Jeffery Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), who calls himself the “Dude.” The narrator describes him to be the laziest man of Las Angeles, which “also makes him possibly the laziest man in the world.” The Dude mostly spends his time getting stoned and bowling. But after one night when two men break into the Dude’s house and pee on his rug, he gets involved into a ransom case involving another Jeff Lebowski (David Huddleston), a millionaire whose trophy wife Bunny (Tara Reid) has been kidnapped. As the Dude gets entangled in this plight, he meets German nihilists, erotic artists, and adult filmmakers. With the help of his best friend Walter Sobchak (John Goodman), the Dude tries to solve this case and get a new rug.
The plot of The Big Lebowski maybe difficult to comprehend, but that’s the beauty of the film. After the success of Fargo, a rather simple story of violence, Joel and Ethan Coen took what seemed like an average stoner comedy and added wit and sophistication to it. Perhaps multiple viewings of The Big Lebowski will help me uncover more clue of the plot. I detected hints of satire and subtle mentions of the invasion of Iraq back in the early 90s. The Coens create a complex story full of twists and turns and the enjoyability never ends.
Like many of the Coen brothers’ other movies, most notably Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski is full of oddball and eccentric characters. The Dude is a hippie who still lives in the 60s and daydreams the weirdest fantasies (in one of the movie’s best scenes the Dude imagines himself in a bowling alley run by Saddam Hussein filled with dancers wearing hats resembling bowling pins). Walter, perfectly played by John Goodman, is an angry Vietnam veteran who constantly reminds people about his service (he also converted to Judaism after marrying his wife who later divorced him and has a strong personal view on that as well). Julianne Moore, who is one of my favorite actresses, plays Lebowski’s daughter and creates artwork by flinging herself naked covered and paint and also flings with the Dude. And Steve Buscemi’s character Donny is a different role Buscemi has regularly played in Coen brothers’ movies, with a smaller part but still has some great scenes, most notably with Walter. And John Turturro steals scenes as Jesus, a fellow bowler who cleans his bowling balls the funniest way imaginable and is also a sex-offender.
The Coens’ style of filmmaking is almost unlike any other directors (the offbeat characters and humor could be attributed to David Lynch). They’ve taken on all sorts of genres with great success. The Big Lebowski has many of the Coens’ trademarks (I discussed the characters before), and they even dabble in surrealism in a couple of scenes. What’s really fascinating is their impeccable cinematography done by Roger Deakins. If Fargo’s camerawork looked like an endless field of snow and NCFOM’s evoked the hot plains of Texas, The Big Lebowski’s reflects that of film-noir with its flashy colors and flair. The brothers made use of a camera connected to a remote controlled car to film bowling scenes and even managed to make a point of view shot from inside a bowling ball.
A rousing success, this takes the place of No Country For Old Men as my favorite Coen brothers’ movie and has immediately become one of my favorite comedies of all time.