10 Ways ‘The Big Lebowski’ Has Shaped Our Lives
If you haven't heard, 15 years ago yesterday, the cult classic “The Big Lebowski” was released (March 6, 1998), which meant, of course, that I indulged in way too many roach clips and White Russians to submit this column on time.
The Dude is always abiding, so I’m sure he approves of this celebration coming a day late. Hell, I’m sure he didn’t even realize he was a year older (Is this a…what day is this?)
Nonetheless, for his sake, I thought making a short list commemorating all the good deeds he has done for us.
Or, you could just say, “Fuck it dude, let’s go bowling,” because in all honesty, this is going to take a very long time.
1. White Russians
The Coen Brothers are film geniuses for a lot of different reasons – the wood chipper scene in “Fargo” to cite an easy example, but their decision to feature Jeff Bridges donning a bathrobe and jellies in a local super market and writing a .69 cent check for half-and-half in the opening scene of “the Big Lebowski” goes beyond the level of genius and into the realm of Noble Peace Prize territory.
At first glance, the audience is thinking who is this bum? Then, “why the hell is he writing a check for .69 cents?” (Followed by: was that George H.W. Bush on the screen?) To understand the Tao of who Jeff Lebowski is to watch this scene over and over again until the only reasonable conclusion is the simplest one – the man just wants to enjoy his favorite drink in the world and he doesn’t care who outside of his perfect Dude world is watching or judging him.
Also, if you’re reading this and, for whatever reason, don’t know what a White Russian is, it’s Kahlua, vodka and cream. Don’t read any more of this until you’ve actually WATCHED the movie, though.
2. Joint Smoking
Show me a person who doesn't have the urge to go get baked in their bath tub after watching The Big Lebowski and I'll show you a person who doesn't have a pulse. Despite having his smoke session ruined by the nihilists and their “marmot,” The Dude toking up in his bathroom remains one of the most glorious activities undertaken in a film that is all about the sublimity of the simple.
While the roach clip in the bathtub is innovative without question, the best Dude smoking moment comes when Mr. Lebowski is in “seclusion in the West wing” and he decides to roll one up as the wheel-chair bound millionaire cries over his abducted wife, Bunny.
What transpires is comic gold: the Big Lebowski asks The Dude pointedly, “What makes a man…is it being prepared to do the right thing, whatever the cost? Isn't that what makes a man?” to which The Dude, after hesitating to take a puff of his joint, responds, “sure, that and a pair of testicles.”
If you haven’t quoted this at least once in your life and you’ve seen the movie, I don’t think we can be friends.
The concept of nihilism is at the core of what makes “the Big Lebowski” one of the greatest comedies of all time, but often gets over-looked as some, odd-ball storyline the Coen Brothers through into the mix on a whim. This simply isn’t true. At every twist and turn in the plot, the nihilists represent the moral and philosophical antithesis of The Dude and, in large part, Walter (John Goodman). As the movie progresses this becomes more and more apparent until their final, climatic confrontation outside the bowling alley where Walter angrily points out, “FAIR? WHO'S THE FUCKING NIHILIST HERE! WHAT ARE YOU, A BUNCH OF FUCKING CRYBABIES?”
Donny (Steve Buscemi) asks if these men will hurt them; Walter reassures his friend that he has nothing to worry about, declaring “these men are cowards” before hurling his bowling ball and their guts and biting off one of their ears.
Although the whole school of thought called nihilism is hilarious in its own right to discuss and question – why would someone want to believe in absolutely nothing? – the way it impacts on the film is much larger than strictly comedic reinforcement. In turn, the nihilists’ legacy is that they are a shining example of what we don’t want to be.
With that said, the film definitely has no moral objective, or goal; however, one could definitely view the Big Lebowski from an analytic lens and determine that nihilism is bad, and most certainly exhausting.
4. Vietnam References
My day isn’t complete without at least one reference to the Vietnam War and that’s startling to most that get to know me because the war started more than 25 years prior to my birth. Why the compulsion to talk about ‘Nam? After watching Walter draw outrageous connections between Vietnam to everything from bowling to Donnie’s premature death for over 90 minutes, it’s hard to go back to a world where mentioning ‘Nam isn’t acceptable. Especially after Walter pulls heat on Smokey, a pacifist, and issues him with cinema’s greatest and funniest ultimatums – “Smokey this is not ‘Nam, this bowling there are rules…MARK IT ZERO!”
Walter brings up Vietnam with such flair and so openly (like his outburst in the diner) that you can’t help but want to conform and follow his example. I guess that makes me a weak man, but at least I know I would stay and finish my coffee even if everyone around the restaurant is gawking at me.
Side note: Has anyone noticed how John Goodman has been in the last two best picture winning films? Couple this fact with his role as Walter and his performances in other classics such as Barton Fink, “O Brother Where Art Thou” and “Monster’s Inc.,” I think it’s time to get him a lifetime achievement award.
5. Acid Flashbacks
Some faithful Lebowski watchers could care less about these deviations from the plot, but for me, they are the scenes that certify why this is my favorite movie all time. The Dude can’t control his acid flashbacks and he likes it that way – they are a part of his trippy universe where everything is aligned just right. Rather than judge others, or even himself, The Dude lets go of all hostility in a truly flower child reincarnated style and simply lives his life, or abides. When Maude (Julianne Moore) asks him what he does for recreation, his response is truthful and not be evasive, like some males his age might be so readily inclined to be, “Oh, the usual. I bowl. Drive around. The occasional acid flashback.” What’s the point of lying when you could just be honest? The Dude exemplifies that and so do his heady trips beyond the planes of space and time.
Also, Saddam Hussein rents him bowling shoes in one of his trips. Does it get any more abstract than that?
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6. “…Like That Camel Fucker in Iraq”
Speaking of Saddam, the film’s time period is absolutely perfect for its set of characters, including the war veteran (Walter), the peace abiding hippie (the Dude) and, almost most importantly, the societal and social rebels (the Nihilists).
It’s impossible to talk Lebowski 101 without talking about the War in Iraq and how that crisis, in whatever way, shape or form mirrors the Dude’s own dilemmas in the plot, regarding his soiled carpet and the Big Lebowski’s missing wife. Although the connections are hard to draw for some, they are there and the way that The Dude handles it all – through constantly abiding – is worth not only applauding but replicating when situations of aggression come up again in the future.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention everything that happens with his car.
7. Rugs and Rug Pissers
Similar to what differentiates The Dude from the nihilists, the idea of cherishing something as simple as the rug you step on every single day is what really separates The Dudes of this world from the rug pissers.
Following his grocery store escapade at the movie’s onset, The Dude comes home to find his home broken into by a pair of thugs who proceed to rough him up, throw him into his toilet and claim that he owes money to porn-king Jackie Treehorn. After The Dude famously delivers the “obviously you’re not a golfer” line to Treehorn Thug #1 (played by the same guy who plays Jacob in “Lost” and Rita’s psycho ex-husband in “Dexter”), you get a sense the story is more about a material item and one man’s pursuit to get it back; rather, it is taking the moral high ground.
The Dude’s motto stays consistent from this opening scene to the very last: if some asshole wants to piss on my rug, so be it. I have friends, a hobby and enough pot to keep me happy. Creedence tapes and bowling cassette tapes don’t hurt either.
8. Shut the Fuck Up, Donny
I’ve heard this yelled at so many dudes not named Donny that I think the name Donny may grow to be extinct by the time my child is, or the opposite will happen and everyone I know will name their son Donny. Regardless, I was torn between using this or one of the many lines from the homework scene with Larry Sellers, because both are such iconic Walter scenes that are quoted so often. I ultimately chose to go with this one because it’s just used so much more often in daily speech without us even realizing we’re referencing “The Big Lebowski.” Even if we aren’t using Donny’s name, the line “Shut the Fuck Up, Person X” still counts as a reference
The other week my friend and I were discussing what line is most repeated from the movie. I said the ‘Nam-Bowling rant from Walter (extremely biased) and he said it was “the Dude abides.” We went at it for a while (about 45 minutes) into a third party bashed our skulls together and helped us realize that “Shut the Fuck Up, Donny” is used at least every hour of every day somewhere in America, and quite possibly the world. Although there’s no legitimate way of proving this, I believe it to be true.
Plus I take comfort in thinking about some little Chinese kid yelling at his friend, “Shut the Fuck Up, Li.”
9. “…Once they’ve seen Karl Hungus”
The private eye, Da Fino, who is follows The Dude around the entire movie is yet another shining example of who we don’t want to end up being in this crazy, mixed up world with all its ins and outs. As The Dude deflects him outside of his humble abode – “stay away from my fucking lady friend” – Da Fino creeps in closer talking about what he’s been up to in the shadows all this time. Their exchange leads to one of my favorite lines in the whole film, when Da Fino talks about returning Bunny Lebowski home to her real family – the Knutsens – in the Midwest. Gazing over a picture of Vaughn Knutsen (Bunny Lebowski) half-baked, while still trying to come to terms with being the father of Maude’s child, The Dude asks “how ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm once they've seen Karl Hungus?”
Although not considered a gem by most, this line really proves The Dude is into that “whole brevity thing” as his prowess for knocking down the one-liners is never more effective. Karl Hungus, of course, is Nihilist No. 1 as well as being a porn star.
Everything comes full circle in The Dude’s world and in life. It’s not pretty; it’s not perfect, but it does end up working out.
10. Stick By Your Friends
The Big Lebowski has united fans worldwide. They come together annually at Lebowski Fests to exchange their favorite lines and dress up like the movies characters. I believe the film’s enduring legacy always has been, and always will be, about keeping your friends close and always sticking by their side no matter what the situation. The Dude, Walter and Donny all exemplify this and as corny as it sounds are three of the best friends ever to be caught on film. They enjoy bowling and each other’s company and that’s all there is to it.
There are a lot of complexities to the case The Dude is trying to solve and a lot of outrageous outbursts along the way, but The Dude takes it in stride because he has “friends like these” to stimulate him in conversations about everything from Lenin to Jesus Quintana. Although their presence, at least Walter’s, bogs him down along the way, The Dude loves his friends and ultimately that’s what keeps him going.
Even as the two pay homage to Donny, following his sudden heart attack, you can tell The Dude really cares. The hug he shares with Walter at the end gets me every time. It’s a touching moment in a movie that isn’t supposed to strike an emotional cord. Although it you are left bellyaching from all the laughter, The Dude keeps everybody’s mind limber by maintaining his friendships and upholding his beliefs through all the drama.
As the stranger notes at the film’s beginning, “sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place.”
Cheers to you Dude, for making it to 15 years of and taking it easy for all of us sinners. Finals or not, you’re a champion in my book.