Normally, to celebrate a 15-year olds birthday we eat cake, drink soda and play with noisy party favors, but this isn't your typical celebration. After all, we are toasting Jeffery Lebowski, better known to his loyal followers as simple “The Dude,” for making it to his 15th year anniversary (we didn’t know if he’d make it after smoking all those Thai sticks).
If you haven't heard, 15 years ago yesterday, the cult classic "The Big Lebowski" was released (March 6, 1998), which meant, of course, that I indulged in way too many roach clips and White Russians to submit this column on time.
The Dude is always abiding, so I’m sure he approves of this celebration coming a day late. Hell, I’m sure he didn’t even realize he was a year older (Is this a…what day is this?)
Nonetheless, for his sake, I thought making a short list commemorating all the good deeds he has done for us.
Or, you could just say, “Fuck it dude, let’s go bowling,” because in all honesty, this is going to take a very long time.
1. White Russians
The Coen Brothers are film geniuses for a lot of different reasons – the wood chipper scene in “Fargo” to cite an easy example, but their decision to feature Jeff Bridges donning a bathrobe and jellies in a local super market and writing a .69 cent check for half-and-half in the opening scene of “the Big Lebowski” goes beyond the level of genius and into the realm of Noble Peace Prize territory.
At first glance, the audience is thinking who is this bum? Then, “why the hell is he writing a check for .69 cents?” (Followed by: was that George H.W. Bush on the screen?) To understand the Tao of who Jeff Lebowski is to watch this scene over and over again until the only reasonable conclusion is the simplest one – the man just wants to enjoy his favorite drink in the world and he doesn’t care who outside of his perfect Dude world is watching or judging him.
Also, if you’re reading this and, for whatever reason, don’t know what a White Russian is, it’s Kahlua, vodka and cream. Don’t read any more of this until you’ve actually WATCHED the movie, though.
2. Joint Smoking
Show me a person who doesn't have the urge to go get baked in their bath tub after watching The Big Lebowski and I'll show you a person who doesn't have a pulse. Despite having his smoke session ruined by the nihilists and their "marmot," The Dude toking up in his bathroom remains one of the most glorious activities undertaken in a film that is all about the sublimity of the simple.
While the roach clip in the bathtub is innovative without question, the best Dude smoking moment comes when Mr. Lebowski is in “seclusion in the West wing” and he decides to roll one up as the wheel-chair bound millionaire cries over his abducted wife, Bunny.
What transpires is comic gold: the Big Lebowski asks The Dude pointedly, “What makes a man…is it being prepared to do the right thing, whatever the cost? Isn't that what makes a man?” to which The Dude, after hesitating to take a puff of his joint, responds, “sure, that and a pair of testicles.”
If you haven’t quoted this at least once in your life and you’ve seen the movie, I don’t think we can be friends.
The concept of nihilism is at the core of what makes “the Big Lebowski” one of the greatest comedies of all time, but often gets over-looked as some, odd-ball storyline the Coen Brothers through into the mix on a whim. This simply isn’t true. At every twist and turn in the plot, the nihilists represent the moral and philosophical antithesis of The Dude and, in large part, Walter (John Goodman). As the movie progresses this becomes more and more apparent until their final, climatic confrontation outside the bowling alley where Walter angrily points out, “FAIR? WHO'S THE FUCKING NIHILIST HERE! WHAT ARE YOU, A BUNCH OF FUCKING CRYBABIES?”
Donny (Steve Buscemi) asks if these men will hurt them; Walter reassures his friend that he has nothing to worry about, declaring “these men are cowards” before hurling his bowling ball and their guts and biting off one of their ears.
Although the whole school of thought called nihilism is hilarious in its own right to discuss and question - why would someone want to believe in absolutely nothing? - the way it impacts on the film is much larger than strictly comedic reinforcement. In turn, the nihilists’ legacy is that they are a shining example of what we don’t want to be.
With that said, the film definitely has no moral objective, or goal; however, one could definitely view the Big Lebowski from an analytic lens and determine that nihilism is bad, and most certainly exhausting.
4. Vietnam References
My day isn’t complete without at least one reference to the Vietnam War and that’s startling to most that get to know me because the war started more than 25 years prior to my birth. Why the compulsion to talk about ‘Nam? After watching Walter draw outrageous connections between Vietnam to everything from bowling to Donnie’s premature death for over 90 minutes, it’s hard to go back to a world where mentioning ‘Nam isn’t acceptable. Especially after Walter pulls heat on Smokey, a pacifist, and issues him with cinema’s greatest and funniest ultimatums – “Smokey this is not ‘Nam, this bowling there are rules…MARK IT ZERO!”
Walter brings up Vietnam with such flair and so openly (like his outburst in the diner) that you can’t help but want to conform and follow his example. I guess that makes me a weak man, but at least I know I would stay and finish my coffee even if everyone around the restaurant is gawking at me.
Side note: Has anyone noticed how John Goodman has been in the last two best picture winning films? Couple this fact with his role as Walter and his performances in other classics such as Barton Fink, "O Brother Where Art Thou" and "Monster’s Inc.," I think it’s time to get him a lifetime achievement award.
5. Acid Flashbacks
Some faithful Lebowski watchers could care less about these deviations from the plot, but for me, they are the scenes that certify why this is my favorite movie all time. The Dude can’t control his acid flashbacks and he likes it that way – they are a part of his trippy universe where everything is aligned just right. Rather than judge others, or even himself, The Dude lets go of all hostility in a truly flower child reincarnated style and simply lives his life, or abides. When Maude (Julianne Moore) asks him what he does for recreation, his response is truthful and not be evasive, like some males his age might be so readily inclined to be, “Oh, the usual. I bowl. Drive around. The occasional acid flashback.” What’s the point of lying when you could just be honest? The Dude exemplifies that and so do his heady trips beyond the planes of space and time.
Also, Saddam Hussein rents him bowling shoes in one of his trips. Does it get any more abstract than that?
Click below to keep reading 10 Ways 'The Big Lebowski' Has Shaped Our Lives