Sunday, 6 February 2011

The Big Lebowski

"I myself dabbled in pacifism once, not in 'Nam of course."

I am beginning this quest through the dungeons of my film collection with one of my all-time favourite comedy films, The Big Lebowski.

Amazon Synopsis:
Jeff Bridges plays Jeff Lebowski, known as the Dude, a laid-back, easygoing burnout who happens to have the same name as a millionaire whose wife owes a lot of dangerous people a whole bunch of money--resulting in the Dude having his rug soiled, sending him spiraling into the Los Angeles underworld.

"In a perfect world all movies would be made by the Coen brothers."
A product of the master film-makers Joel and Ethan Coen, The Big Lebowski, released in 1998, was initially given a luke-warm welcome by film-goers and critics alike. However, over the years as it's layers and layers of subtext have been revealed through repeated viewings, it has become one the ultimate cult films across a number of generations, spawning an annual 'The Big Lebowski What-Have-You Fest' whereby thousands upon thousands of 'Little Lebowski Urban Achievers' have gathered to bowl and quote lines from the film. These 'Achievers' have also taken to dressing up for this event, with many dressing in typical 'Dude' attire, whilst others take the opportunity to dress up as The Dude's Landlord, a Creedence Tape and even as The Queen In Her Damned Undies! For more on the global effect of The Big Lebowski on the global community, visit The Church Of The Latter-Day Dude

Through it's unconventional uses of both dialogue and visuals, The Big Lebowski not only works exceedingly well as a ridiculously silly and nonsensical comedy film, but also as a surprisingly deep commentary on a number of themes, primarily 'What makes a man in contemporary America when compared to masculine stereotypes derived from classic-era Westerns and Detective movies?' and 'The Effect Of Repetition in Language in an Increasingly Convoluted and Confusing World'.

As is evident in the trailer above, The Big Lebowski is a melting pot of genres and styles, with only two constants. The Dude (a.k.a Jeffrey Lebowski, played by Jeff Bridges).... and Bowling. The film is essentially a mix-tape of various plots that, in the end, have no real meaning or affect on The Dude himself. Ironically, despite the plot that spoofs the twists and turns of the traditional detective movie to the Nth degree, it is actually far easier to understand than the film that it takes it's primary inspiration from, The Big Sleep (another film on my list). Also of note, This obsession with The Big Sleep runs so deep that many scenes could be taken from each film and, played side by side, would reveal a number of striking similarities in both the structure, settings, dialogue and mood between scenes.

I won't spend too long on the humour that makes up The Big Lebowski, as it really cannot be effectively communicated outside of the film itself, and really just has to be seen. However, I will spend a small amount of time on one of the themes mentioned previously as a demonstration of the many layers present in this film.

"In The Parlance Of Our Times"
One of the primary, yet relatively subtle, themes in The Big Lebowski is the repetition of language and how it can be taken out of context to mean something completely different. The script makes use of a vast number of leitmotifs that occur throughout the film, passing from one character to the next.

For example, the character of Walter quotes from a number of sources extraneous to the film, including Shakespeare and Herzl with little regard to context. A perfect example of this is when The Dude tries to repeat this same method of argument, but failing miserably:

Dude: It's like Lenin said, you look for the person who will benefit and, uh, you know...
Donny: I am the walrus.

Another aspect of the viral nature of language begins in the very first scene of the film. As The Dude purchases some Half-and-Half at the local superstore, a news report in the background shows George Bush Snr.  using the phrase "This aggression will not stand" in reference to the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. During his encounter with 'The Other Lebowski', the Dude re-applies the phrase when arguing about who should take responsibility for his soiled rug, stating "This will not stand, ya know? This will not stand, man!". In fact, the entire sequence of events in the film spawns from a scene where a name is taken out of context, with Jackie Treehorn's thugs mistaking the obviously unemployed Jeffrey 'Dude' Lebowski for the millionaire philanthropist Jeffrey Lebowski.

The depth of this film means that I could literally go on for hours and hours about all of it's subtext (and I haven't even mentioned the fact that it has one of the greatest and most appropriate selection of songs for it's soundtrack). However, I won't spoil any more of this brilliant film for you and shall leave you to discover (or re-view) this film for yourself.

Here are the scores:

Acting: 8.5
Cinematography: 10
Script: 10
Soundtrack: 9.0

Overall: 9.7 (not an average)

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