By Jamie Stilgoe
What do you get if you take two parts vodka: one part Kahlua and a splash of cream? Some would say a White Russian: The Dude would call it breakfast, lunch and maybe even dinner. When The Big Lebowski opened across cinemas worldwide the response, like the cocktail, was mixed. Many critics like the BBC’s Mark Kermode were distinctly underwhelmed by the Cohen brother’s efforts, but it isn’t many films which inspire their own religion and earn the status of cult classic.
Photo used under Creative Commons from: Subtleblade
The Big Lebowski is the story of Jeffrey Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) aka The Dude: an over-aged hippy who loves nothing more than bowling with his pals (although we never actually see him play), smoking ‘herbal’ cigarettes and drinking “Caucasians.” In a case of mistaken identity two thugs, looking for his millionaire-namesake, break into The Dude’s home and urinate on his carpet. The Dude, with encouragement from his psychotic friend Walter Shobchak (John Goodman), decides that the other Jeffrey Lebowski should reimburse him for the soiled rug. So begins the world’s most reluctant detective story.
The Cohen brother’s based The Big Lebowski on Raymond Chandler’s novel The Big Sleep and in true Cohen style turns the film noir genre on its head. Most film noir detectives drive the plot but it is the volatile Walter who uses twisted, angry logic to warp The Dude’s stoner sensibilities. Indeed The Big Lebowski is a film which shouldn’t really work. There is a paedophile bowling rival called Jesus; a group of European techno-musicians (which may, or may not, be nihilists) and a sperm-seeking femme fatale. Borrowing from their love of screwball comedies, the Cohen brothers manage to make these random elements into a film which is quirky without being try-hard.
The Big Lebowski is by no means perfect and some critics would point to Barton Fink,Fargo or even No Country For Old Men as the great Cohen brother films but in terms of Cohen comedy, Lebowski is king. This is mainly due to career high performances from Jeff Bridges, John Goodman and even John Turturro as Jesus. As with many films, originality sometimes comes at a cost. The Big Lebowski structure of dream sequences, drug hallucinations and surreal set pieces (naked swing painting anyone?) means the second act loses focus and cohesiveness, but then again, this is the story of The Dude.
If The Big Lebowski was an ice cream flavour it would be half-baked, but this is not a film of half-baked ideas – the wackiness serves a purpose. The dude abides – and so should you.
United States 1998, 117 mins
Director: Joel Coen
Starring: Peter Stormare, Steve Buscemi, Jeff Bridges, John Goodman
The Big Lebowski is showing at Duke of York’s cinema, Brighton Sunday 18 December at 18.00
Come dressed as the Dude, Jesus, Walter, Donny or Bunny and win a prize.
White Russians of course, will be available.
Book online by selecting a time or call the Box Office:
0871 902 5728 (10p a minute from a landline)