Updated: Aug 8
One might say that cinema is constantly progressing, true watching something filmed recently and comparing it to something filmed 20 years ago, you will notice a marked difference in picture and sound quality. Technology has reached a point where CGI can mimic live action, case in point The Lion King (2019) and Avatar (2009); however movies are entertainment, not a mechanism for software developers to flex their muscle. In ten years time all the special effects they’ve spent so much money on will look obsolete while good cinema has no shelf life. I want to discuss a movie that doesn’t try too hard and has stood the test of time.
The Big Lebowski (1998) is a movie. Yes, you might say I'm stating the obvious but not every movie being made these days is 'a movie'. Martin Scorsese famously said 'Marvel movies aren't cinema'. So many films of the past two decades aren't cinema; they impress you with special effects, exaggerated budgets and all-star casts they're formulaic and predictable. Most movies stick to a formula, a formula that makes money.
On the far opposite side of the spectrum, you have pretentious art-house movies. Judges at film festivals and film students may praise these movies as works of art, nuanced and packed with metaphors, thoughtful cinematography and compelling performances by unknown but sincere actors they are sadly unentertaining and dull.
The Big Lebowski (1998), brothers Joel and Ethan Coen wrote and directed this cult classic. It's a movie in the best sense of the word; cinema in its purest form. A crime caper that funnily evolves from mistaken identity.
Jeff Bridges plays Jeff Lebowski a.k.a 'the dude', a slacker who shares the same name as a millionaire played by David Huddleston whose wife 'Bunny' (Tara Reid) may or may not had been kidnapped for a million-dollar ransom.
Bunny owes money to the ambiguous film producer Jackie Treehorn played by Ben Gazzara. The 'dude' gets tangled up in this saga when thugs hired by Jackie Treehorn break into his house, mistaking him for the other Jeff Lebowski and pee on his rug. After a heated discussion with his friends, Walter (John Goodman); a self-proclaimed Vietnam veteran, and Donny (Steve Buscemi); a meek pushover, the 'dude' decides to confront the other Jeff Lebowski and swindles him out of a rug to replace the one damaged by the thugs.
The 'Dude' gets called back to Jeff Lebowski who gives him a million dollars in a suitcase and shows him a ransom letter, allegedly written by the same thugs who peed on his rug. The rug becomes a plot device when Jeff's daughter Maude Lebowski played by Julianne Moore, a left-field artist who disapproves of Bunny and expects the kidnapping to be a hoax, takes it back from The Dude after knocking him out while he was stoned alone at home.
A gang of nihilists played by Peter Stormare, Torsten Voges and Flea bassist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers are the alleged kidnappers. They torment 'The Dude' throughout the movie after the million-dollar suitcase. Maude Lebowski suspects that Bunny faked the kidnapping to embezzle the money.
The Dude's car gets stolen with the suitcase in it. When the police find the vehicle, the suitcase is missing, dubiously a school student's homework is found in the car, leading to Little Larry Sellers played by Jesse Flanagan, The Dude and Walter interrogating Larry to retrieve the money in which is probably the funniest scene in any movie I've seen.
Eventually Bunny returns unharmed, she was "visiting friends in Palm Springs", and we never know what happened to the suitcase containing the million dollars. Jeff Lebowski could have given The Dude a ringer, an empty suitcase, keeping the money. Little Larry Sellers never uttered a word of dialogue. At the end of the movie, the nihilists confront the three friends to find the money, but nobody knows where it is or if there was any money in the first place. Sadly, Donny dies of a heart attack during this final dispute, being the only fatality during this debacle.
So you have The Dude, his two friends, the millionaire Jeff Lebowski, his shifty wife, his peculiar daughter, the nihilists, a rug and a suitcase that may or may not have contained a million dollars. Throughout The Big Lebowski (1998), The Dude has vivid LSD flashbacks featuring characters from life and is clearly out of his element and not prepared for the crimes and events that unfold in the story. All with a bowling alley as a backdrop. Not to mention the hilariously sleazy "The Jesus" played by John Turturro, a hotshot bowler who heckles The Dude and his friends every chance he gets.
As a movie, The Big Lebowski (1998) is very aware that it's just that, a movie. So much so, that its narrated by a cowboy known only as 'The Stranger' played by western movie legend Sam Elliott who reads the prologue and epilogue in his slow, deep southern drawl. He even has two cameos or soliloquies during the movie, in the first he asks The Dude if he could refrain from cursing so much, reminding the viewer that The Big Lebowski (1998) is a story being told by "The Stranger" and that The Dude is the protagonist.
I honestly cannot count the number of times I've watched The Big Lebowski (1998) it never gets old. It has all the elements a movie should have. It's not pretentious; it doesn't pretend to be art, but still takes your breath away watching how masterfully cinematographer Roger Deakins presents each scene for you as a viewer and nothing more than that. It's not art; it doesn't belong in a gallery; it's not a theme park or a virtual world. It's a movie.