The road to cult status for The Big Lebowski began with half-empty theaters, skeptical reviews and low ratings on the Web. However, back in 1998, there were several tens of thousands of people who took the eccentric story about the adventures of an unemployed man nicknamed the Dude with enthusiasm and proclaimed the creation of the Coen brothers a masterpiece. Today millions of people think so, and not only in the USA. “The Big Lebowski” became not just a symbolic cultural phenomenon: it influenced the behavior and thinking of an entire generation, introduced a bunch of catchphrases into speech, and even gave rise to a philosophical doctrine called “dudeism.” Not bad for a farcical comedy, isn’t it? However, the genre of The Big Lebowski is as ambiguous as it is with its meaning.
What genre does the film belong to?
Traditionally, “The Big Lebowski” is considered a mix of two types of comedy: sitcom and comedy of mores. From a sitcom in the film – a series of curious situations in which the main character finds himself, from a comedy of morals – a witty depiction of society. In the film by the Coen brothers, all events, characters and social institutions turn out to be complete opposites of what they seem to be or what they should be: for example, the millionaire does not really have a penny, the police do not protect, but beat the citizens, no one kidnapped the kidnapped, a million was not in the case, etc. However, the plot of the film is not limited to the depiction of the world of inflated quantities. Under the layering of purely comedic episodes, the literary principle appears in it – the novel “Deep Sleep” by Raymond Chandler. And Chandler is more than just a bestselling author: he is the founder of the tough detective genre, based on his novels, cult films of the noir style were shot. The Big Lebowski has so many recognizable cliches of this style that the film can be called a parody comedy.
Who is “The Dude” Lebowski?
At first glance, everything is clear with the social profile of Jeffrey Lebowski: a person basically does not want to work, preferring bowling, a society of friends and accessible forms of hedonism like an aromatic bath with candles to labor in the sweat of his brow. He dresses appropriately (some colorful trousers are worth something), he does not shine with wide erudition. However, a number of circumstances prevent Jeff Bridges’ character from being considered something like Henry Chinaski from the movie “Drunk”, and not only because Lebowski drinks in moderation. The fact is that Lebowski’s simplicity is imaginary, and among the archetypes to which this image appeals, there are very unexpected and curious ones.
One of the most ancient “ancestors” of Lebowski is, of course, the cunning Odysseus. For the slow-witted, the connection between these characters is revealed in a fantastic dance scene in which Maud Lebowski is dressed in the costume of the goddess Athena, the patroness of the clever Greek. Lebowski has the same amazing talent – walking between Scylla and Charybdis without spilling a drop from the glass. But the amazing mix of everyday cunning and optimistic innocence is only part of this multifaceted nature. Another archetypal image, the connection with which can be traced no less clearly, is the noble knight. As befits a true knight, Lebowski prepares all day for a tournament – if not a knightly, but a tournament, and is ready to act as the savior of a beautiful lady.
There is in Lebowski something from the informal of the 1960s, and at the same time from Mahatma Gandhi with his preaching of non-violence. And yet all this is not enough to explain the extraordinary popularity of this hero. You never know in the history of cinema charming idlers, but fan clubs are created and annual festivals are held only in honor of Lebowski. And it’s not about Jeff Bridges’ great performance. In the hedonist, who perceives life as a game, American society suddenly recognized itself. Lebowski is a controversial American hero of the postmodern era, who, despite all his shortcomings, managed to preserve the basic, main values in a world where values no longer exist: friendship and optimism.
Who is Cowboy?
If Lebowski is the embodiment of a new, postmodern America, then Cowboy is a symbolic embodiment of the spirit of the pioneering ancestors. It is no coincidence that he does not have a name: in the credits he is listed as “The Stranger”. His attitude towards Lebowski is patronizing and ironic and at the same time friendly. The cowboy is not surprised by the adventures of Lebowski: he has seen not so, and yet his story seems to the old man worthy of the attention of the audience. At the same time, this character emphasizes the continuity and preservation of traditions, even if they are not always easy to recognize in a new guise: the world is changing, but the American spirit remains the same.
What is the meaning of Sobchak, Big Lebowski, his daughter Maud and the rest of the characters?
The gallery of funny characters is designed not only to amuse the viewer: with their help, a huge number of the most important for America of the twentieth century are ridiculed. events, phenomena and ideas – from the Vietnam War to feminism. Walter Sobchak is a parody of the image of a Vietnam war veteran, which has been replicated in hundreds of cult films, and at the same time ridiculing the modern approach to religion. In the very first monologue of The Big Lebowski, almost all American values - from individualism to the cult of success – are ridiculed. Maud Lebowski is a comic embodiment of feminist ideas, as well as contemporary art with its performances and installations.
Nymphomaniac and pornographic actress Bunny is a parody of all “maidens in trouble” combined, as well as “nihilist Germans” are a parody of cinematic fascists and real rockers at the same time. Even episodic characters such as the Malibu Police Chief and Marty, the Dude’s homeowner, are filled with satirical overtones.
What’s the point of the movie?
We can say that the Coen brothers’ film debunks all American values one by one, but that is not the point. In the finale, all values mysteriously find themselves in their places, and instead of civic indignation and other negative feelings, the viewer experiences an emotional uplift. The meaning of The Big Lebowski is most fully revealed with the help of M. Bakhtin’s theory of carnival. During the carnival, the whole habitual way of life is violated, everything is turned upside down, everything is ridiculed – but its meaning is not in destruction, but, on the contrary, in the establishment of order. Having passed through the crucible of ridicule and denial, values are reborn in a renewed form, and the stormy stream of life returns to its usual course.
The Coens criticize their society with carnival lightness and such relish that the last doubts disappear: all criticism comes from sincere love. Just as Comrade Stalin had no other writers, so the Coens have no other America. Going through its components with the enthusiasm of adolescents who criticize their parents, the brothers-directors come to the only possible conclusion: life is good, and American values are so unshakable – including the notorious million dollars – that you can not worry about the country.
At the same time, in order to enjoy the comedy of the Coen brothers, it is absolutely not necessary to plunge into mythological allusions, philosophical implications and other depths. As trite as it may sound, The Big Lebowski is a film that can make anyone laugh, and in which anyone will find something of their own: that’s why millions of viewers in different countries love it.
Jeffrey Lebowski seems like a great creation of the writers’ fantasy, but in fact this hero has a real prototype – Jeff Dowd, who helped the Coens with their first film. The image of Lebowski reflected both Daud’s character traits and some facts of his biography, for example, participation in the Seattle Seven. And the nickname of the protagonist – Dude, which is translated both as “Dude” and as “Dude”, literally means “horse member” and is used in American jargon for familiarity.
The recipe for Dude’s favorite cocktail, the name of which is also translated differently, looks like this: 2 parts of vodka are mixed with 1 part of coffee liqueur, after which 1 part of milk / cream is added to the mixture.
Filming lasted only 11 weeks: all scenes were filmed in Los Angeles.