We close our 2013 fall season of Movies at the Library with “The Big Lebowski,” 117 minutes of cinematic frippery from Joel and Ethan Coen—the same team that wrote, produced and directed the Academy Award-winning “Fargo” and before that, “Raising Arizona,” the picture that put the Coen Brothers on the cinematic map.
Roger Ebert called “The Big Lebowski” a “genial, shambling comedy about a human train wreck.” Janet Maslin dubbed it “a crazy fable”… even “loopier than ‘Fargo.’”
It will be shown downstairs at the library at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, December 3.
The film was released in 1998; by 2004 it had become such a cult classic that 4,000 admirers gathered in Louisville, Kentucky for the first Lebowski Fest. For two days, Lebowski fans dressed up as their favorite characters, bowled (Lebowski — played by Jeff Bridges — lives to bowl), drank White Russians (as Lebowski does when he’s not bowling or soaking in a bathtub, smoking a joint and listening to whale songs) and hurled Zenish lines of dialogue at each other.
It all starts as a case of mistaken identity. Jeff Lebowski is known to his equally whacky bowling buddies as “the Dude.” The Big Lebowski is a wheelchair-ridden tycoon who lives across town in a mansion. His smoking-hot trophy wife owes a lot of money to a very bad guy, who sends goons to break into the wrong Lebowski’s household (i.e. the Dude’s) looking for repayment of her debt. About which the Dude knows nothing. But the goons are not to be dissuaded. In their zeal to let the Dude know what they think of him and his excuses, they urinate on his favorite carpet.
“That rug really tied the room together,” the Dude mourns to his bowling teammates.
Seeking recompense at their insistence, the Dude storms into the millionaire’s mansion and becomes embroiled in a plot to get back the wife, whom the Big Lebowski claims has been kidnapped. Naturally, the Dude recruits his buddies to help him. Together they decide to siphon off some of the ransom money. With dire consequences.
But plot matters here less than characters — of whom there are a great many, all with a great many Coen Brothers quirks.
John Goodman plays a hot-headed Vietnam vet paranoiac with a tendency to wave his gun around even over small slights. He didn’t watch his fellow soldiers “die face-down in the muck” only to be told to pipe down at dinner. Steve Buscemi is another teammate and co-conspirator; despite his best efforts, he is never allowed to complete a sentence, let alone a thought. Then there’s John Turturro as the Latino bowler named Jesus. Ben Gazarra plays the bad guy, David Huddleston the Big Lebowski, Julianne Moore his arty feminist daughter and Sam Elliott the narrator, who shows up at a bowling alley to order sarsaparilla and compliment the disheveled, T-shirted, ponytail-sporting Dude on his style.
They’re all part of the Coen Brothers’ repertory company, and they serve their material with comic vigor that closely resembles either a fun-house ride or a trip down a rabbit hole into an amusingly bizarre stoner Wonderland.
Jeff Bridges so identified with Jeff Lebowski that he participated in a five-day “hang” about it with Zen teacher Bernie Glassman. The result is a slender volume, “The Dude and the Zen Master,” in which Bridges discusses his marriage, his acting technique and his close relationship with his father, the actor Lloyd Bridges, who died the year “The Big Lebowski” was released.
Please join us at the library December 3 for this genial rollicking movie. Bring a pal. You’ll both enjoy this one.