The Big Lebowski Movie Explained: What’s the Story Behind?

The Big Lebowski (1998) movie meaning, plot summary, ending explanation, similar films.

Kindness, pofigism, pacifism and other ideas of the cult comedy “The Big Lebowski”

Country: USA, UK

Genre: crime, comedy

Year of production: 1998

Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Actors: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, David Huddleston.

Tagline: “It takes simple guys like the Dude and Walter to make a story this complicated… And they’d really choose to bowl.”

Awards and nominations: 5 wins and 18 nominations, including a Golden Ram (Best Foreign Film win) and a nomination for the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival (Best Film Award).

“The Big Lebowski” is an American comedy directed by brothers Ethan and Joel Coen based on the novel “Deep Sleep” by Raymond Chandler. Upon release, it was not recognized, flopped at the box office and earned tepid reviews from critics. Later, the picture, thanks to its uniqueness and the image of the main character, had a lot of fans, and it received the status of a cult. Understand the meaning of the movie “The Big Lebowski” will help a detailed analysis of its plot.

What the movie is about

The central character of the movie “The Big Lebowski” is Jeff Lebowski, nicknamed The Dude. He has no job and family, he is away from the outside world and spends time bowling with his buddies Walter and Donnie.

Jeff Bridges played the role of Jeffrey Lebowski. Frame from the film.

Bandits come to Dude’s house and demand that Dude pay off his wife’s debt. It turns out that they have confused the man with his namesake – an elderly millionaire Jeffrey Lebowski, known as “The Big Lebowski”. The perpetrators leave, but one of them urinates on the carpet, which, according to the Dude, “set the tone for the entire room.”

The dude goes to the namesake for compensation. The Millionaire refuses to pay for the damage, and the Dude tricks him into taking one of his carpets for himself. On the way out, he meets Lebowski’s young wife, Bunny, who is married for convenience.

In the morning, the Big Lebowski informs the Dude that Bunny has been kidnapped and offers to mediate the ransom, as the thugs who broke into him may be the kidnappers. The dude tells Walter and Donny about this and assumes that Bunny herself staged the kidnapping for the money.

The dude sleeps on the carpet at home, he is stunned by unknown people and the carpet is taken away. The pager receives a message from Bunny’s kidnappers. Having received the ransom, the Dude goes to meet with the criminals, but because of Walter, the plan fails, and the money remains with friends. The dude worries about Bunny, but Walter replies that she’ll be fine.

Friends go bowling, leave a suitcase with money in the car. At night, the Dude goes outside and sees that the car has disappeared. He submits a statement to the police with a description of the car and the things that were in it.

The dude meets Maud Lebowski, an artist and daughter of The Big Lebowski. She reveals that she took the carpet because it reminds her of her mother. Further, from the content of her words, it becomes known that Bunny previously starred in adult films with a certain Jackie Treehorn and could stage a kidnapping. Maud offers the Dude to return her ransom: the money was in the account of a charitable foundation that sponsors gifted poor children. Her father, the manager of the organization, withdrew a million to pay the kidnappers.

John GoodmanThe role of Walter Sobchak was played by John Goodman. Frame from the film.

Further, according to the plot of the comedy The Big Lebowski, the millionaire accuses the Dude of failing to transfer the ransom. The Dude explains about the staging, but Lebowski holds up a female finger that belongs to Bunny and promises that he will offer the kidnappers to take the money from the Dude. In the evening, criminals come to Dude and demand to give them a ransom. In the morning, the police report that the Dude’s car was found, but there was no briefcase in it. Inspecting the car, the Dude finds a sheet with a school essay.

The dude is dating Maude. The girl, having learned the names of the criminals who demanded money, says that they are nihilists and Bunny’s friends. The Dude and Walter drive to a schoolboy who stole a car to get his money back, but are unsuccessful.

The Dude is invited by Jackie Treehorn, inquiring about Bunny’s whereabouts and offering to pay back the money she owes him. The dude drinks a cocktail with sleeping pills and passes out. When he wakes up, he finds himself walking on the road. Bunny drives by in a car.

The dude sees that his apartment is trashed. Maud appears and seduces him. During the subsequent conversation, it becomes clear from her explanation that her father is in reality poor, and the money withdrawn from the fund belonged to her mother. The Big Lebowski was only the manager.

The dude understands the hidden meaning of what happened: the clue is that no one kidnapped Bunny, but the millionaire, having learned about her disappearance, decided to steal the fund’s money. He appropriates them, and gives the Dude an empty diplomat to accuse him of stealing the money.

The dude and Walter go to the millionaire and see that Bunny is at home: she was not kidnapped, she went to her friends herself. The Big Lebowski denies trying to frame the Dude. Walter decides that the millionaire is pretending to be disabled, pulls him out of the wheelchair and throws him on the floor, but sees that the man is really paralyzed.

Friends go bowling. After playing in the parking lot, they see Dude’s car on fire and the Nihilists. It turns out that they, having learned about Bunny’s departure, decided to take advantage of the situation and demand a ransom. The finger was donated by their friend to intimidate a millionaire. The Nihilists demand money, but Walter gets into a fight and forces them to flee. Donnie has a heart attack and dies.

Donnie is cremated. At the end of The Big Lebowski, Walter and the Dude take his ashes to the sea. Saying goodbye to a friend, Walter reveals that Donnie was fond of bowling and surfing, and then switches to a story about Vietnam, where he once served. After finishing his speech, he pours out the ashes, but it flies in the face of the Dude, and not in the direction of the sea. He is indignant and accuses Walter of ruining everything, as usual, but his friend apologizes and offers to go bowling.

The meaning of the film

The Big Lebowski became a cult film thanks to the main character, unusualness and humor. It has a number of interpretations in which critics or viewers express their ideas, trying to explain the essence of the film, but almost all of them come down to one thing: the meaning of the picture is not in the story itself, which the directors told, but in the image of the protagonist and his life principles.

Julianne MooreJulianne Moore as Maud Lebowski. Frame from the film.

From the point of view of the plot, the picture is a detective story about the kidnapping of the wife of a millionaire. This is no coincidence: The Big Lebowski was based on the detective novel Deep Sleep by Raymond Chandler. Unlike the book, the main character of the comedy is Dude – a slacker and pacifist. He gets to the center of the events and at the end of the film he learns that there was no crime. The point is that the girl went to her friends, the criminals found out about this and decided to demand a ransom. Her husband decided to embezzle the money and frame the Dude, accusing him of stealing a million. In the end, everything ends well for the hero, and he returns to his favorite pastime – bowling.

The plot, as mentioned earlier, is not the main thing in the movie “The Big Lebowski”. The main attention in the picture is not paid to events that have faded into the background, but to the central character, his ideas and lifestyle. This is Jeffrey Lebowski, nicknamed The Dude, an unemployed and hedonist who kills time by smoking marijuana, listening to music, bowling with buddies and drinking White Russian. He does not care about what is happening around him, he prefers to receive only pleasure from life. We don’t know who he is, what he is, where he gets his money from. Some facts about his life are revealed from his own words: he was a member of the anti-war organization Seattle Seven, and also went on tour with the Metallica group.

The meaning of the Dude’s life is to easily swim through life and do what he likes. Having become involved in the situation with the kidnapping, he wants only one thing – to get a new carpet and return to bowling, “White Russian” and other favorite activities. He is repeatedly offered to earn money, but although he does not receive easy money, this does not bother him. All he needs is to be left alone and given the opportunity to enjoy life again.

David HuddlestonDavid Huddleston played the role of the Big Lebowski. Frame from the film.

The Dude treats all problems calmly and philosophically and, instead of worrying about them, he plays bowling. This is what he does when he is beaten by bandits and after the failed transfer of the ransom to the kidnappers, as well as in other cases. Everything that happens for him is just circumstances that violate his way of life.

According to the Dude, they are not worth worrying about: if you distract from them, perhaps the situation will resolve itself, and he will again be able to live his old life and do what he likes. Even after Donnie’s death and his ashes scattered, the Dude and Walter go bowling: the explanation for this ending is that there they can relax and discuss what happened, and life, meanwhile, will move on.

With all this, the Dude reveals important qualities – a kind soul, compassion and humanity. Thanks to them, he is ready to do everything that others ask him to, from agreeing to come to the performance of his landlord, to participating in the transfer of the ransom (albeit for money) or the willingness to return a million Maud, if the opportunity arises. At the same time, on his own, he does not interfere in the affairs of other people in order to help them, but if he is asked about it, he does not refuse.

Bowling, as Dude’s favorite sport, was not chosen by chance: it allows you to leisurely spend time talking, smoking and drinking. Bowling is used as a pause between active scenes, while during the game, friends discuss what is happening and think over further actions. If something bad or even terrible happens, for example, Donnie’s death, they go to the bowling alley to relax and think about what happened.

bowling gameFrame from the film.

The first dream of the Dude is connected with bowling. A huge ball covers the hero and rolls along the path, and the viewer sees what is happening around him through the hole in it. There is a theory that this dream reflects the life of the Dude: the meaning is that he, like the ball, moves along his path and does not want to go anywhere, and cannot turn off.

According to the Coen brothers themselves, through the bowling alley at The Big Lebowski, they showed their own life in the 70s: this is how they spent their free evenings. The sport itself also emphasizes Dude’s nostalgia for the 60s and 70s: he listens to the music of those times, wears appropriate clothes, smokes weed and thinks about nothing but his favorite activities and relaxing with friends.

There is no need to look for some hidden meaning or deep idea in The Big Lebowski. The directors did not set themselves the task of raising some important questions in the film and giving an answer to them. They created a bright and original film, which the audience appreciated in different ways. For some, this is a passing picture that did not leave any emotions, while for others it is a cult comedy thanks, first of all, to humor, philosophy and the demeanor of the protagonist.

The Big Lebowski gained popularity only some time after its release, but does not lose it at the present time. The catchphrases from the picture are still quoted today, and on the Internet there is even a philosophical trend called “dudeism” (from the English “dude” – “dude”), the key theses of which correspond to the life principles and ideas of the Dude.

Moore and Bridges danceFrame from the film.

Similar films

  • “No Country for Old Men” (USA, 2007). A Vietnam War veteran finds a suitcase full of money belonging to the local mafia and takes it for himself. A killer is sent in search of money and the kidnapper.
  • “Kill Bill” (USA, Japan, 2003). A former hitman wakes up from a coma and goes to take revenge on the former members of her gang and the leader who betrayed her.
  • “Cards, money, two barrels” (UK, 1998). To return the debt to the crime boss, four friends decide to rob the bandits who committed the robbery.
  • “Seven Psychopaths” (UK, USA, 2012). A writer who has lost his inspiration becomes an accomplice in the kidnapping of a local gangster’s beloved dog.
  • “Fargo” (USA, UK, 1995). A car salesman hires criminals to stage the kidnapping of his wife and extort money from his rich father-in-law.
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