Made by the Coen Brothers when they were flush with the success of their Oscar-lauded Fargo (1996), The Big Lebowski seems to bear out Orson Welles’ distressed contention from Michael Winner’s I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘Isname (1967), “Give artists money these days and all they do is … spend it.” This wigged-out comedy became an immediate cult favorite, but wasn’t exactly Oscar material and was hardly a big box-office success. Centered on Jeff Bridges’ laid-back embodiment of The Dude—the ultimate slacker/stoner—the film was simply too disjointed, too weird and too Coenesque to cut it with mainstream viewers. A lot of people were simply perplexed by its rambling plot (so incoherent that even Sam Elliott, who narrates the film, can’t follow it) and its cinematic playfulness.
Who was ready for a film-noir spoof that has The Dude standing in for Philip Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet (1944)? And even if they were, were they ready for this ersatz Marlowe to be bludgeoned into a comatose state and fantasize a Busby Berkeley-styled musical number in a bowling alley? Even granting this unlikely possibility, this is, after all, ultimately a story about a man seeking recompense for a rug (one that “really tied the room together”) that was urinated on by gangland goons who mistook him for another Lebowski. It takes a certain type of person to appreciate that—and you know who you are (or aren’t). For myself, well, if nothing else, the Dude speaks for me when appraises the music of the Eagles.