by Afra Nariman
The Big Lebowski (1998)
Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Stars: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Johm Turturro, David Huddleston
“Ah, fuck it dude. Let’s go bowling.”
Character-driven storytelling at its finest. So much of what this film says is grounded in the personalities, characteristics, identities and interactions between the many, expertly written characters.
In the film, practically everyone who ‘the dude’ encounters has a very strong, particular worldview and they act with a near desperate conviction to exert their views and selves on a rapidly changing world and on those they share it with. Unlike the typical Coen Brothers’ protagonist, the dude does not exercise the desire for success, or riches, or fame. He simply abides. Though, everything that happens to the dude, everywhere he goes throughout the film, is dictated by the actions and convictions of those around him and those whose paths he crosses. They all attempt to exert their own worldviews and ways of being onto the dude, who does his best to resist. While the dude does not pursue the success that the typical Coen Brothers’ protagonist does, he is still not necessarily able to completely escape the cycle of failure that they are subjected to. To strictly abide in a world such as ours, is in itself a grand pursuit; and the dude experiences the difficulties of such a way of being.
The world depicted in The Big Lebowski is one about to enter the new millennium. It presents a society that has become individualistic — people are guided by their strongly-held personal beliefs or ideologies on ‘how one should live and be.’ This society is also very opinionated (i.e. at one point, the dude is kicked out of a cab because he doesn’t like the music being played); it is one where you must find a way to fit in to some sect of society, or else be left alone to wander the world aimlessly searching for an identity and way of being that others would not only accept, but simply acknowledge. This experience is illustrated through the character of Steve Buscemi’s ‘Donny,’ someone who doesn’t necessarily “abide” in the same sense that the dude does, but he doesn’t exert himself either. He is not clearly opinionated, he doesn’t act with conviction or have a desire for control. He simply wants to be part of the conversations happening around him; he wants to fit in, but even his best friends fail to acknowledge him properly — because he doesn’t seem to confidently communicate a particular way of being — until it is too late and Donny dies because of the circumstances that they, his friends, found themselves in; circumstances that Donny was not even a part of because they didn’t let him in.
Another of the most interesting supporting characters of the film is John Goodman’s ‘Walter,’ who believes that as a veteran, his life and his being has attributed immensely to the world around him. He seems to believe that because of this, he is more important than the average person, that he has more of a right to live life his way and not be subjected to the deterministic qualities of society. Thus, he desperately tries to control what’s around him in a world that has nevertheless consistently acted upon him, that has taken away people close to him, values that he once lived by, and that has effectively forgotten about him and those like him, leaving him behind to fend for himself in a society he no longer fits neatly into. He tries to preserve what little control he has left, in his own, smaller world that he has crafted around himself. As the dude points out at one point, Walter is “living in the past,” and this is because his identity is no longer acknowledged the way that he views it should properly be, in the present.
It’s also a very funny movie and one of the greatest films to just hang out with.
MY RATING /5:
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