I first saw The Big Lebowski (1998) in its original theatrical run about a decade ago, and I’m still not sure why I went to see it. Why would the 15-year-old me be interested in a film-noir satire about a stoner and avid bowler nicknamed “The Dude” (Jeff Bridges), who, after having his favorite rug urinated on, gets entangled in a kidnapping plot involving German nihilists? The answer is beyond me. This becomes especially true when you take into account that at that age I had no knowledge of who the Coen brothers were beyond a general familial obsession with Raising Arizona (1987). Perhaps even odder is that my mother agreed to take me to the theater to see it. But I do know I could never have guessed the cult phenomenon the movie would become, complete with books, T-shirts and numerous “Lebowski Fests” across the nation.
I’ll be the first to admit that, today, I have not been initiated into the cult of Lebowski. I still think the movie drags a bit. It’s a little too full of itself, and there’s way too much John Goodman—not to mention that I’m simply over the movie after hearing it quoted ad nauseam by over-zealous fans (though I did spout “V.I. Lenin” my fair share in high school). I’ve been told that it helps to have a West Coast disposition and a love of bowling (and, I assume for many, a love for a certain controlled substance) to really appreciate the film, all of which I lack. I’m also sure that for many—as scary as it sounds—The Dude might just be the American dream.
Regardless of my reservations when it comes to the film, it’s still important to the filmography of the Coens, since it shows them at their most extreme, wigged-out, playful and just plain odd. Whether you love the film or hate it, who else besides the Coens would be daring enough to make such a movie? The answer is no one. The Big Lebowski’s multitude of die-hard fans couldn’t be more thankful that they did.