Twelve years since my first viewing, I couldn’t resist revisiting one of my all-time favorite films by the Cohen brothers – The Big Lebowski.
I often find that revisiting truly special films long after the initial viewing allows a deeper appreciation and understanding to develop. This 1998 masterpiece by the Coen brothers is certainly deserving of further exploration.
Over the opening credits, a calm atmosphere washed over me as “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” played in the background. I was immediately transported back to that sleepy, laidback world inhabited by the iconic Jeffrey Lebowski, The Dude. His is a life I find extremely comforting and soothing to revisit time and time.
We are then introduced to the core reason for The Dude’s immediate distress – someone has pissed on his rug. Having that rug ties the room together; this is a tragedy of the highest order. But it sets the stage for the wild journey down the rabbit hole that is to unfold. As The Dude stormily declared that “this aggression will not stand,” I was excited about the surreal shenanigans.
The meeting with fellow bowler Walter Sobchak reminds us of one of the film’s great strengths – its phenomenal ensemble cast. John Goodman slays it as the hot-headed Vietnam vet with clear PTSD issues. His fiery rants and passionate tirades are always a delight, especially contrasted with The Dude’s zen-like refusal to get elbowed out of his calm headspace. The glorious absurdity of the “chinaman” argument had me in stitches all over again.
We are then introduced to Maude Lebowski, beautifully portrayed by Julianne Moore. Her aloof manners and obscure speech perfectly balance The Dude’s lax ways. The scenes between these two did not disappoint on the rewatch, with their oddball dynamic and debate over perceived pretension versus relaxed authenticity. And could that dreamlike sequence set to a ’70s LSD experience soundtrack be any more surreally hilarious? True artistic brilliance.
As the mistaken identity plot point kicks into gear regarding the other Lebowski family, I was again struck by the film’s ability to seamlessly blend disparate genres. We slide between slapstick comedy, hardboiled mystery, and even melodrama with flawless ease. The parade of eccentric characters that flood The Dude’s world is chock full of priceless one-liners that had me in constant laughter. Special shoutout to Jesus Quintana (John Turturro), who steals every scene he’s in with graceful panache.
About halfway through, the brilliant John Turturro cameo transports us into full-blown dream logic territory. Even after dozens of watches, this hallucinatory sequence set to a Spanish version of “Hotel California” never fails to blow my mind with its inexplicable yet perfect surrealism. These unclassifiable flashes elevate The Big Lebowski into the rarefied air of true cinematic poetry.
As the loosely developed plot meanders towards its anti-climactic conclusion, I was again struck by how little I care about solving the supposed mystery. That’s because the real thrill of this film lies squarely in spending time with these empathetic characters and bathing in the pleasurable absurdity of each unforgettable scene. The Coen Brothers trust the audience to go for the ride rather than demanding traditional story satisfaction.
While I had fond memories of nearly every scene, a few stood out as particularly spectacular on this viewing. I lost it completely at the Malibu police chief’s uproarious verbal assault on Walter and The Dude. “I don’t roll on Shabbos!” had me howling with renewed appreciation for its sheer comedic perfection. Similarly, the Dude’s bemusement at learning he’s been targeted by nihilists caused me great joy. Jeff Bridges’ understated bewilderment is the height of comic genius.
As the end credits began to roll, accompanied once again by that soothing “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” I was overcome with a profound appreciation for this cinematic masterpiece. Even after all these years and repeat viewings, The Big Lebowski has lost none of its ability to transport me to a place of carefree amusement and effortless cool. It’s a rare film that improves with age as new subtleties are noticed and its timeless appeal becomes clear. I cannot recommend it more highly to those still yet to experience this comedic poem in motion picture form.
As for me, you can be certain I’ll return for another happy reunion with my favorite slacker hero in a few years – he pulls the room together, man.