Review: The Big Lebowski (1998)

This is going to be, like, my opinion, man!

Written By: Ethan & Joel Coen
Directed By: Ethan & Joel Coen

Sometimes a bit of distance from a film can be a great thing, such was the case with myself and The Big Lebowski. When I first watched The Big Lebowski I was so inundated with people telling me how awesome it was that after it finished my only reaction could be, “eh, it was okay.” Fast forward many years to the point where I have become an unabashed lover of the Coen brothers and I knew The Big Lebowski was due for a second spin. I know I have changed as a person, because The Big Lebowski hasn’t changed at all as a movie and yet this time it worked for me in every way that a film can work. The time I spent away from The Big Lebowski allowed me to appreciate it more this time around, to see the funny where I missed it the first time around, to read into the hero thematic or the riffs on classic noir films that eluded me in that first viewing. Time has been kind to The Big Lebowski, very kind indeed.

As great as The Dude is, and he is great, the character that defines The Big Lebowski for me is Donny. He never finishes a thought and his inability to finish everything ties what I love most about the film together, it is so scatter shot. It begins in the opening narration, The Stranger loses his train of thought and can’t even properly finish the narration. Throughout the film we are given idea after idea that is never quite finished and if one isn’t really paying attention this could be seen as a problem with the film. But, it all goes back to Donny and his inability to ever get a word in or finish a thought, his inability is the main theme of the film. The Coen brothers transport us into this half finished world and you can either be like Donny and go along with it or choose not to, I chose the former this time around.

It’s hard to write a review of The Big Lebowski without gushing, without quoting every second of the film. Whether we are talking about Walter, Jesus, the Nihilists or the Treehorn thugs, The Big Lebowski is populated by amazing characters. The urge to quote these characters, to simply pour recounts of their exploits into my review is high, but I will persevere. The characters make up the comedy of The Big Lebowski, because each and every character is absurd, yet we want to know them, we feel like we know someone just like them in our lives. They are funny, what they do is funny, what happens to them is funny, and because of them The Big Lebowski is very, very funny.

The last bit of brilliance in The Big Lebowski that I will touch upon is the direction and writing of the Coen brothers. In spite of its rising acclaim throughout the years I was very surprised this time around to realize how subtle The Big Lebowski is. Whether it is in the dialogue or their direction, the Coen’s always take the viewer right to the edge of crossing over from subtlety to the obvious and they stop. There’s no need for us to see Jesus have his pedophile conversation, we are already laughing and the Coen’s realize this. Maud flying in a harness is funny enough on its own, all we need to see is the reaction of The Dude. And that is where the sheer brilliance of the Coen brothers comes into play, because they have made a film that at its core is all about reaction. Shot after shot is framed around the reactions of Donny, Walter, The Dude, and so on and so forth. The Coen’s don’t want us to focus on the hilarity of the absurd, but the hilarity of the reaction to the absurd.

As I said, time has been very kind to The Big Lebowski, it has gone from a movie I thought of as mediocre Coen brothers, to a film I place in my top 100 of all time with nary a qualm. You can watch The Big Lebowski and laugh, or you can watch The Big Lebowski and enjoy the nods to the noir genre, the absurdity of it all, the cool loserdom of the characters, the beautiful direction, the witty dialogue, the wonderful music selection or even the thematic of one man being a hero in his own way. But, as long as you are actually watching The Big Lebowski that’s all that really matters, because The Big Lebowski is a film that deserves to be watched again and again, because I can only see time being kinder to The Big Lebowski with each viewing.




13 responses to “Review: The Big Lebowski (1998)

  1. Yeah, subtle brilliance is a Coen trademark and it’s written all over this one. Had the same experience you did with it,too. First time I saw it, went right over my head, hardly laughed at all. Second time around I saw it with folks who actually got it, and I got it immediately, too. One of the best comedies out there, glad to have you on the bandwagon.

  2. It’s in my top 5 favorite films by the Coen Bros. “Barton Fink” is my favorite with “Blood Simple” in 2nd place. I think. I don’t remember the lists I write anymore. I’ve lost them.

    My favorite scene is the Dude in a cab bitching about the fuckin’ Eagles. And yes, they’re overrated.

  3. Totally there with you on this one. I saw this in the theatre and was meh on it. It wasn’t bad, but at the end I walked out thinking I must have missed the point. Oh well. Fast forward probably a year or so and my then roomate got it on video (yes…video) and I gave it another spin and wondered if it was the same movie. It became an instant classic in my realm and one of my top rewatchable films of all time.

    The dude abides!

    Oh and aside, I love Donny but the whole film I’m just waiting for another Walter scene. Sobchek for president!

  4. i think everyone has a ‘I didnt get the Big Lebowski first time round’ story – i know i do. i like your opening line, Bill.

  5. ‘Watched again and again’ isn’t enough times. Again, and again, and again, and again….

  6. I’ve come across that first time viewing alienation – and not only with The Big Lebowksi but other Coen Bros. films too. But the film is up there with the finest comedies of all time. It is just so damn funny. Over the recent past – this and Bad Santa have been the funniest films I’ve seen.


  7. mcarteratthemovies

    The Coen brothers get that reaction a lot — people not knowing whether to cringe or laugh or hide their eyes in shock. You have to acquire a taste for their work, and once you do you can’t get enough of it. This is one of their lighter works — well, light compared to “Blood Simple” or “A Serious Man,” anyway — and it has stood the test of time. It’s an iconic performance from Bridges, but let us not negate the work of John Turturro and John Goodman and Julianne Moore. The cast is a doozy all around.

  8. Aiden – Glad to be on the bandwagon.

    Steven – They may be overrated, but I still like them in a background noise kind of way.

    Paul – Walter is a great character, with a great performance from Goodman.

    Ross – Thanks, every now and then I write something that sounds good. 🙂

    Edgar – 🙂

    Dan – Bad Santa does make a good companion piece to Lebowski.

    M – Yep, the cast is great in this one.

  9. “The Coen’s don’t want us to focus on the hilarity of the absurd, but the hilarity of the reaction to the absurd.”

    damn Bill, that is some science you are dropping, man. I think this sentence may have trumped our whole episode by comparison.

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  11. Sweet, I have Sherlock himself commenting on my blog now!

    No way man, your episode was actually one of the things that helped me come to that bit of insight, I knew what I thought but I was having trouble crystallizing it. Hearing your guys take on the film helped me make my ideas solid, so we work hand in hand man. 🙂

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