THE BIG LEBOWSKI – A Classic Cult Phenomenon

When Ehab approached me to ask if he could write a review for this cult classic, well – The Kernel abides. My personal favourite piece of info about THE BIG LEBOWSKI is the censorship that was applied to it for the TV release. In order to appease the censorship overlords, sacrifices on swear words had to be made. They (the censors) quickly learned that if they bleeped out every curse word, the film would have a dialogue track akin to that of a reversing truck. So they had to get clever with every instance of dialogue whose utterances would require ten “Hail Mary’s” and four “Our Father’s”.
One such iconic scene was censored from the original dialogue:
Do you see what happens, Larry?!? This is what happens when you F*** a stranger in the a**!!”
Instead they went with the very profound:
“Do you see what happens, Larry?!? This is what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps!!”
Personally I’d love to see the alternate censor cut for this classic – if only to experience amazing dialogue like this example.

We hope you love Kernel Ehab’s gushy love fest review for THE BIG LEBOWSKI. And if you don’t, well, that’s just like, your opinion man.
– Kernel Claire

THE BIG LEBOWSKI is rated MA, runs for 117 mins and is released by The Dudes at Universal Pictures. It’s available for home entertainment, and streaming on Netflix.
A few select cinemas are abiding and playing this as a retro comeback classic – so check your local picture-house for sessions, man!

Jeff Bridges, Steve Buscemi and John Goodman in The Big Lebowski

BY EHAB RASHED

INITIAL THOUGHTS:

In 1998, a low budget, unassuming LA based indie comedy noir was released to almost no fanfare. Reading the synopsis it can be easy to assume that the movie was a silly “case of mistaken identity” romp and expectedly bombed upon release. Here’s yet another great reason why you should never assume anything. Because THE BIG LEBOWSKI has deservedly amassed one of the most tremendous cult followings in cinema history! Let’s take a look at why…….shall we? 

A QUICK SYNOPSIS – NOT ON THE RUG, MAN:

When professional stoner/slacker “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges, CRAZY HEART, TRUE GRIT, STARMAN) is mistaken for a big millionaire Lebowski, two thugs urinate on his rug to coerce him into paying a debt he knows nothing about. While attempting to gain recompense for the ruined rug from his wealthy counterpart, he accepts a one-time job with high pay-off. He enlists the help of his bowling buddy Walter – a gun-toting vietnam vet with anger issues. Deception leads to more trouble, and it soon seems that everyone from porn empire tycoons to nihilists to marmots want something from The Dude.

Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski

I’M A LEBOWSKI, YOU’RE A LEBOWSKI:

Let me share with you how LEBOWSKI entered my life 

I was closing up my regular shift at Video Ezy, toying (as usual) with my staff and instructing them to alphabetise the Anime section (simple video store pleasures). I was distracted by a new addition to the magical “Screener” drawer.  This mystical drawer had movies available to staff before being released to the general public. And honestly it was the main reason I loved working there. That, and the fact that the KFC next door that always had “left overs”. 

I grab the latest VHS (For the younger readers VHS’s were plastic cartridges that held movies on film tape). I grab the tape and rejoice! HARD RAIN!!! YES!! Morgan Freeman and Christian Slater battle a flood or something. I was PSYCHED! I turn the tape around and oh, it’s a double feature. THE BIG LEBOWSKI……..huh…..funny name. Under the title it said “From the makers of “FARGO”……huh again! I loved that flick and didn’t know much about these COEN BROTHERS in my 20th year on earth. If you ask me today, I couldn’t tell you what the hell happened in HARD RAIN, but I can recite LEBOWSKI almost word for word. That’s right! That video cassette not only gave me Lebowski, but it ignited my love for the COEN brothers. It’s a love that still burns today. (Editor’s note – for the unfamiliar, The Coen Bros. made FARGO, BURN AFTER READING, THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS – amongst others. If you’re unfamiliar with their work, I’d highly recommend checking them out. They’re so iconic)

John Turturro in The Big Lebowski

TUMBLEWEEDS A ROLLIN’:

Now a pre warning: The Big Lebowski isn’t for everyone. It’s not your typical mainstream three act structure. You either get it or you don’t. I’ve introduced it to many people over the years and it’s either “I LOVED IT” or “I DIDN’T GET IT”. Which is the beauty of cinema and art in general, when you think about it. 
The film opens with a rolling tumbleweed and the sultry tones of Sam Elliot (THE CONTENDER, A STAR IS BORN) with a real “early western” kind of feel. You don’t know what’s happening, but you know it’s different. He introduces us to The Dude as we listen to Tumbling Tumbleweeds, the first song from the fantastic soundtrack that includes Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bob Dylan, Dean Martin, The Gypsy Kings, Elvis Costello, Debbie Reynolds, Kenny Rogers and The F#@king Eagles!

We get right into the inciting incident. The pee that started it all! Dude comes home to find two singlet wearing toughs there to collect on a debt owed by Bunny Belowski, who they assume is married to our Dude. After some witty banter and toilet dunking they realise they’re in the wrong place but STILL go ahead and pee on the Dude’s rug……not cool man. 
Dude takes this slight in stride and goes to meet up with his bowling buddies. Here we are introduced to Donny (Steve Buscemi, RESERVOIR DOGS, FARGO) and Walter Sopchek (John Goodman – RAISING ARIZONA, BARTON FINK) and they go about convincing Dude that he should seek restitution for the pee stained rug. 

SOONER OR LATER YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO FACE THE FACT YOU’RE A MORON:

This dynamic of Dude, Walt and Donny is the highlight of the movie for me. Every one of their scenes is a masterclass is timing, dialogue, delivery and pure laugh out loud hilarity. Dude tracks down The Big Lebowski (The late David Huddleston BLAZING SADDLES, THE PRODUCERS. The Coens originally wanted Marlon Brando for the part) and his caretaker Brandt, a whimsically awesome performance by the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman (CAPOTE, MI-3, CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR) and goes about trying to get his rug issue resolved.  And while things didn’t go the way Dude wanted, he finds himself smack bang in the middle of a caper thats sees him cross paths with………….get ready for this:

  • An LA Porn King 
  • A nude expressionist artist 
  • A severed toe
  • A million dollars 
  • A furious car owner 
  • A group of german nihilist techno pop thugs 
  • A corrupt sheriff 
  • A nosy private investigator 
  • A curious doctor 
  • A bag of dirty underwear 
  • A performance artist wrapped in twigs 
  • An Iconic TV writer and his dimwit son (one of the ALL TIME GREAT scenes)
  • A heart attack 
  • A sex offender named Jesus (A character so popular he spawned his own movie
  • A funeral director 
  • A ransom exchange 
  • A subconscious musical 
  • Suddam Hussein 
  • Continuous threats of castration 
  • Issues with the Sabbath 
  • And a temperamental pomeranian 

    What more can you ask for?
Legs 11 for The Coen Brother’s Big Lebowski

THE CAST IS PERFECT:

So how has a relatively small-release film become the beloved movie we know today? The simple answer is: enduring characters. 
Dude, Walt, Donny, Maude, Brandt, Bunny, the nihilists and Da Jesus have become pop culture icons with legions of fans across the globe. Joel and Ethan Coen wrote an impeccable script and it was delivered beautifully. The cast have said on many occasions that the film was performed exactly how it was written. No ad libbing at all! Every pause, every utterance, every inflection was exactly how the Coens wanted it. I liken the performances to a symphony. All the lines are delivered with rhythm and pitch and tend to reach crescendo at the right time. Watching THE BIG LEBOWSKI is like listening to a great album. 

No one plays it better than the movie’s MVP Walter Sopchek. I remember laughing with the kind of pain that makes your face hurt when I first watched John Goodman deliver his most beloved and enduring character. Criminally overlooked at the Oscars that year, the Coen Brothers regular, Goodman is the kind of fantastic that just speaks to people! His lines are infinitely quotable and Walt has become a symbol of defiance the world over. Just google his name and enjoy the rabbit hole. Goodman has stated that he’s never had more fun acting in a movie than this one.

Finally the rewatchability is off the charts! It’s not easy to make a movie where damn near every scene is memorable and every line quotable. But that’s what we have here. I can always tell if I’m going to get along with someone if they pick up on a random Lebowski quote I drop into any everyday conversation. With 260 F-bombs, this movie just spoke to me ;). The Dude’s line, “The Dude abides”, is a reference to bible verse Ecclesiastes 1:4, “One generation passes away, and another generation comes: but the Earth abides forever.” It is a reference to how The Dude, much like the Earth, can weather change and chaos around him, but still remain the same. Beautiful, man!  

Julianne Moore in The Big Lebowski

THE DUDE AND THE ZEN MASTER :

In the twenty-two years since Lebowski bombed at the box office with less than $19 Million cumulative US take, it has cultivated quite the reputation. Forget about simple fan screenings, Lebowski has spawned its own philosophy. Bridges shared this story in 2017 “I was sitting next to a Zen master at this dinner party, and he leans over and … he says, ‘You realise that in many circles, The Dude is considered a Zen master?” The Zen master told Bridges that the movie contained “many modern day koans,”. (Koans are a phrase or question used in Buddhist meditation.) These koans include: “The dude abides,” “Shut the f#@k up Donny,” and “Well, that’s just like your opinion, man.” 
The meeting led to a book collaboration, “The Dude and the Zen Master,” co-authored by Bridges.

LEBOWSKI’S LEGACY :

  • There’s a religion called Dudeism, boasting more than fifty-thousand ordained Dudeist priests, and a publication called the Dudespaper, “a lifestyle magazine for the deeply casual.’’
  • The Big Lebowski also has its own traveling Festival called Lebowski Fest. The festival started in 2002 in Tennessee and has been held in more than 30 cities over the years. The event is usually split between two days. The first day features a screening of the movie and a few bands. Day two is the bowling party with costumes, trivia, and more.  
  • In December of 2014, The Big Lebowski became one of seven hundred “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” films preserved for future generations through the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry.
  • Jay Z and Beyonce bought The Big Lebowski mansion in 2015. Beyonce is a huge fan of the movie and even used a snippet from the film in her song “Partition”

You can’t really understand the full breadth of what this movie has been able to do, but as you can see from above, its quite the phenomenon. 

John Turturro in The Big Lebowski

PUTTING ON THE RITZ:

If I could indulge in another personal story (as The Big Lebowski is playing at The Ritz Cinemas in Sydney’s Randwick right now). It just so happens that the last time I saw the movie on the big screen was at The Ritz in 2012. It was to an absolutely packed house filled with Lebowski Fans. Talk about a brilliant night!! Hundreds of fans showed up all dressed in costumes sharing their love for all things Lebowski. There was drinking, trivia, prizes and a real sense that the people there all just “got it” and wanted to be around others that “got it” too. Check out the gallery of pics from the night below. It was brilliant and I hope that in post-covid times we can do it again.

I COULD GO ON AND ON:

I could seriously talk about this flick for ages! (Just ask my poor friends). I didn’t even touch on White Russians, LogJammin, The Dude’s wardrobe (which has become iconic), Pacifism, The In and Out Burger or the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers. All Lebowski tropes that I just love! For now, I will just end by saying that my favourite thing about The Big Lebowski is that I got onto it early. I was there from the start and I can honestly say the twenty two years since then have been better because of it.

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YOUR CRITIC:

Ehab Rashed is a part time freelancer and full time movie tragic and dog dad. If he’s not making his Netflix account overheat you can find him at the movies, a dog park, contemplating the life meaning in “The Big Lebowski”, photographing landscapes or working Tarantino quotes into everyday conversations. You can find him and his dog bumming around on insta @chubbz4lyf 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.