‘The Big Lebowski’ Is Officially A ‘Classic’ Movie, But Is It Good?

THE BIG LEBOWSKI, Jeff Bridges, Steve Buscemi, John Goodman, 1998,
Gramercy Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

I’ll be honest: I have purposely avoided watching this movie. So many people in college had the poster of this Coen brothers film hanging in their dorm rooms or sticky, frozen pizza-littered apartments in the mid-to-late 2000s that I could only assume I would not enjoy it. So many hippies agreeing on something was frankly troubling, my general aversion to popular things aside.

Turns out, we were all sort of right: it’s objectively a decent movie, but I just didn’t really like it. Following a Los Angeles stoner who gets mistaken for a millionaire of the same name (David Huddleston) with a young indebted wife (Tara Reid) who may or may not have kidnapped herself, The Dude unwittingly gets sucked into a chaotic assortment of events — with the help of the other Lebowski’s assistant (Philip Seymour Hoffman) — that leads to a parking lot showdown with a group of nihilists (Flea, Peter Stormare), I found it rather depressing.

THE BIG LEBOWSKI, Jeff Bridges, 1998.

Gramercy Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Take the opening scene, when the main character, a bowling enthusiast and stereotypically lazy pothead nicknamed The Dude, played by Jeff Bridges, is being described by Sam Elliott‘s character:

“Sometimes there’s a man who, well, he’s the man for his time’n place, he fits right in there — and that’s The Dude, in Los Angeles.” This came out in 1998, and even though it is clear that The Dude is an archetype of a certain type of lazy bum only someone in the States can aspire to be, it makes me wonder if the mere existence of this film has created an even worse problem than the one being described here. Maybe at the time this came out, The Dude was the man for his time and place, but now? Replace bowling leagues with any other hobby that adults tend to take too seriously — Jiu Jitsu, rock climbing, CrossFit — and factor in more portable cell phones, and this could take place anywhere, at any moment. Leaving the house in pajamas is now so normal that it’s barely noticed anymore, and so is aspiring to do nothing. Is that a good thing? No, I do not think so. In fact, it’s sort of nihilistic, and nihilists are supposedly the antagonists of this film. I don’t really see much difference between the nihilists and The Dude, other than their choices in attire. Everyone here is aiming to get money they don’t deserve, rather than just work for it, so they can sit around and do nothing. Realistic, perhaps, but they’re not people I want to root for.


THE BIG LEBOWSKI, John Turturro, 1998.

Gramercy Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

The acting is really good. John Turturro was especially great in his role as convicted pedophile and resident creep, Jesus. He is probably the least likable character, for obvious reasons, but none of them are particularly likable, other than maybe Walter, a veteran and Jewish convert, played by John Goodman. Obsessed with the rules to a perhaps-dangerous degree, at least he has a spine and commits to things, like Shabbat (which The Dude does not respect, and makes Walter break the rules for him). Also, he beats up some pesky nihilists, which I found enjoyable.


THE BIG LEBOWSKI, Jeff Bridges, 1998,

Gramercy Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

I think this is supposed to be a comedy? I just didn’t find it that funny. It’s hard to root for a guy who doesn’t want to do anything but get high and bowl, even if absurdity is intended to be the point. Everyone here is pretty incompetent, and chasing money that apparently doesn’t even exist, and I understand that is the point, but it’s a rather depressing take on humanity, only because it is so accurate. If it was truly absurd and held no commonalities with the real world, it might be funnier. And poor Donny (Steve Buscemi); what did he ever do to be told to shut up all the time?


THE BIG LEBOWSKI, Julianne Moore, 1998,

Gramercy Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

Does anyone here work? How are they paying the bills? The Dude can afford to bowl and make endless White Russians, but he can’t pay his landlord, so clearly the money he saved from being in the “Seattle Seven” has dwindled significantly. Walter is at least a veteran, so perhaps he has a pension or lives off of disability, and Maude (Julianne Moore) is wealthy because her mom was wealthy. (That the only person who achieved success here was a woman who died did not pass by unnoticed!) Maybe it’s the Soviet in me, but it bothers me to see perfectly capable men sitting around and smoking weed and not contributing to society. Walter’s rants on this notion are spot-on, if not ironic.

What are your thoughts on The Big Lebowski? Does this cult classic still hold up in current times? To find out, watch it tonight, when it premieres on Turner Classic Movies for the first time. For more reviews, click here.

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March 2021

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