A trophy wife kidnapped, a trigger-happy Vietnam War veteran, a pompous millionaire, a seductive artist, and a pacifist stuck in the very center of them all. These incredibly odd elements ought to amount to something meaningful, right? In all actuality, The Big Lebowski is a movie that concludes very little and mostly revolves around the Dude’s nonchalant response, “The Dude abides,” to all of the madness that unfolds in his life. While it may seem sloppy and unsatisfying to come to such a bland conclusion after the introduction to so many fascinating characters and subplots, it’s the perfect way to end the Dude’s story. The Dude is content with what he has; even if it’s very little. Perhaps we could all stand to learn a thing or two from the Dude’s lax demeanor and philosophy of life.
The Cast is Incredible
The characters in The Big Lebowski are out of this world. The Dude himself, albeit a very simple man with simple tastes, is incredibly interesting. Who on earth has the gall to write a 69-cent check? In any case, the characters he comes across in the film never fail to bring their own special aura to the Dude’s experience.
Walter, the Dude’s most reliable best friend, is constantly referencing Vietnam at the most inappropriate times. The Big Lebowski—the millionaire with the same name as the Dude—lives a lavish life, barricading his precious ego from the outside world. His wife who is probably less than half his age is busy in the back of their mansion offering blowjobs for thousands of dollars. Maude, the woman the Dude ends up sleeping with, is simply using the Dude as a sperm donor. Ian Nathan’s review of The Big Lebowski praises the absurdity of the cast.
If a potential viewer is a little uncertain to see the movie due to its reputation for ending nowhere in particular, he suggests, “Try Julianne Moore’s pseudo-European feminist art freak, Peter Stomare’s German synth rocker-cum-porn star nihilist or John Turturro’s outrageous convicted child-molester turned bowling alumnus Jesus for character novelty.” The characters, as a result of their eccentric behaviors, egotism, stupidity, and undeniable originality, are a vital part of the rich viewing experience of both the movie-watcher and the Dude.
“This aggression will not stand, man”
For most of the movie’s duration, the Dude gets the short end of the stick in so many unfortunate situations. Two of Jackie Treehorn’s buffoon cronies mistake him for the real Lebowski they’re looking for and urinate on his most valued rug simply because they felt inconvenienced. He was also thrown into a potentially dangerous hostage situation by the real Lebowski, after he refused to help the Dude and instead insulted him. The threat of death was thrown upon the Dude who had no prior qualms in the matter. Rosie Swash from The Guardian explains that, “Someone once said: ‘In order to be funny you have to be sad first.’ The Big Lebowski, like almost everything in the Coens’ repertoire, is deadpan hilarity tinged with the morose.” In order for the comedy in the film to work as well as it does, there has to be some misfortune for our hero. Only from mistakes, pain, and suffering does anyone ever learn anything, and the same can easily be said for the Dude.
What’s the Point?
The reason The Big Lebowski is such a classic, effective movie despite its lack of a satisfying conclusion is the Dude himself. According to Doug Walker, most of the conversations in the movie don’t have any clear conclusions and simply getting them started is almost a hassle. Take for instance the first time the Dude tells his friends Walter and Donny that his rug has been soiled. Not only could the entire scene probably be summed up in two mere sentences, but it becomes extremely difficult to even start what the conversation should be about. Between Donny’s constant interruptions and Walter’s explosive tangents, one might suspect they were listening to an elderly couple’s nonsensical quarrels rather than dialogue of a cinematic masterpiece.
With inane comments and actions that lead to few clear conclusions, the Dude doesn’t ever become very negatively affected. Doug Walker explains, “It doesn’t matter to us what happens in all of these other situations because it doesn’t matter to him. To a lot of people, in a strange way, the Dude is sort of the perfect balance of living a happy life.” If the Dude was frustrated with the lack of answers he had—like what ever happened to Jesus, Maude, Bonnie, Larry, and the rest of the cast—we would also be very frustrated. This isn’t a movie about story; moreover, it’s about “attitude,” according to Roger Ebert. He says that “If a man has a roof over his head, fresh half-and-half for his White Russians, a little weed and his bowling buddies, what more, really, does he need?”
What the Dude is peacefully protesting is that the key to happiness is acceptance. We should not focus on the things we know we’ll never receive answers to. Instead, we should be content with what we’ve accomplished and be glad to know that we accomplished what we did, even if it was very little, in a peaceful way.
Defying Gender Norms
The Dude and Maude are characters that defy gender norms through their actions. The Dude and Maude are aloof in comparison to any average male or female. Instead of using the term “ferret,” the Dude insists upon using “marmot.” Even Maude mentions the term “Johnson” when referencing colloquialisms for the word “penis,” which downright bemuses the Dude. Jakeb Kazecki explains that characters who defy cultural norms are often more comical. He explains, “Comedy is often developed in situations where both male and female characters do not measure up to cultural expectations for their gender. In other words, if they physical appearance and the actions of the characters do not comply with the normative image for their gender…they can induce laughter.”
Maude is so likeable and funny because she’s independent, very thorough, and an overall eccentric character. She’s so different compared to women like Bonnie that it’s almost comforting to see such independence. She’s more real, which makes her more relatable and easy to laugh with. The same can be said for the Dude. He understands what technically makes a man— “a pair of testicles.” He and Maude do not recognize themselves as being masculine or feminine subjects with the sole purpose of getting labelled—they’re the Dude and Maude. They’re their own persons despite what society demands of them.
Its Cult Following Has Gotten Young
Since the film’s debut in 1998, it has become a cult classic to some and a downright masterpiece to others. Even after twenty years, it’s still popular among young and old audiences. Andy Greene of the Rolling Stone describes that “The rise of The Big Lebowski from bomb to late-blooming cult sensation was gradual… as audiences started revisiting Lebowski, momentum began to build.” The Big Lebowski has grown a very large following comprised mostly of college students and millennials.
Even John Goodman, the man who played Walter, has realized how surprisingly young the cult following for the movie is. Goodman admitted to Greene that “I noticed more and more that the [fans] were younger and younger… Sometimes they’ll throw out a ‘Shut the fuck up, Donny.'” There’s no denying that The Big Lebowski wasn’t near as popular when it was first released as it is now. The reason people are still regularly watching The Big Lebowski is because of the Dude. His pacifist message to accomplish what goals you can without hurting anyone speaks loudly to the millennial generation. For this young generation of fans, this philosophy is their own personal life philosophy as well. They adopted it from the Coen brothers’ conjuration of the Dude and his struggles to “abide” in the midst of madness and wonderment.
To Conclude a Movie that Has No Conclusion
In conclusion, The Big Lebowski was never meant to have a conclusion. This wasn’t an attempt to frustrate or anger the audience, rather it was a major part of the moral message. The Dude is all about living the life he wants to live for himself. He doesn’t boast and he isn’t insecure about his apparent lack of masculine qualities. In reality, he couldn’t care less what the world thinks about him. Like his lady friend Maude, they don’t recognize themselves as bland subjects destined to be filed away as some stereotypical label—they’re who they are. Not only is the Dude independent, he is also content with what he has. He still goes after what he wants—like his rug—but when things in life get murky, he accepts that life goes on. He still lives the life he chooses to live for himself. He may be a bum, but he’s alright with that; so why shouldn’t we? This ingenious philosophy behind The Big Lebowski combined with the immaculate characters and hilarious situations is what makes the film so memorable even after a whopping twenty years.
Ebert, Roger. “The Big Lebowski Movie Review (1998) | Roger Ebert.” RogerEbert.com, Ethan Cohen, 10 Mar. 2010, http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-the-big-lebowski-1998.
Greene, Andy. “’The Big Lebowski’: The Decade of the Dude.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 4 Sept. 2008, http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/news/the-big-lebowski-the-decade-of-the-dude-20080904.
Kazecki, Jakeb. “What Makes a Man, Mr. Lebowski?” “What Makes a Man, Mr. Lebowski?” Masculinity under (Friendly) Fire in Ethan and Joel Coen’s The Big Lebowski, vol. 28, no. 1, 1 June 2008, pp. 147–159., eds.a.ebscohost.com.bhc.idm.oclc.org/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=4&sid=4b51d83b-bea4-4975-906d-aaa4df0460ce%40sessionmgr4010.
Nathan, Ian. “The Big Lebowski.” Empire, Empire, 24 Aug. 2016, http://www.empireonline.com/movies/big-lebowski/review/.
Swash, Rosie. “My Favourite Film: The Big Lebowski.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 2 Nov. 2011, http://www.theguardian.com/film/2011/nov/02/favourite-film-the-big-lebowski.
Walker, Dough, director. Is the Big Lebowski a Masterpiece? YouTube, Channel Awesome, 2 July 2016, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C97UGxQA9Fo.