The Coen Brothers garnered much fame and positive critical reception after their film Fargo was released. In 1998 they released their next feature, The Big Lebowski, which failed at the box office and received mixed reviews amongst critics. So how did this movie become considered the cult classic that it is today?
Here are my main reasons why The Big Lebowski has become such a classic and why it was originally over-looked.
1. The plot is over complicated, yet inconsequential. The first viewing of The Big Lebowski usually results in confusion and aggravation when trying to understand the plot. But first time viewers are missing the whole point entirely. According to Joel Coen, “We wanted to do a “Chandler” kind of story – how it moves episodically, and deals with the characters trying to unravel a mystery, as well as having a hopelessly complex plot that’s ultimately unimportant.”
The sooner you acknowledge that the plot doesn’t matter the more likely you will be able to enjoy it, which leads me into my next point.
2. Great characters casted perfectly. The plot is unimportant because the characters are all that matter. The casting of John Goodman, Steve Buscemi and John Turturro was perfect because the Coen Brothers had worked with each of these actors before and catered the roles to each of their strengths. These actors are also highly underrated, in my opinion, even Jeff Bridges who literally becomes The Dude.
These characters seem real and that resonates with the audience. It’s not about the plot but how these characters misinterpret the situation and the absurdist moments that arise because of this. Tara Reid is also perfect casting, something I thought I would never say.
3. Irrelevant banter. The Dude: ‟God damn you Walter! You fuckin’ asshole! Everything’s a fuckin’ travesty with you, man! And what was all that shit about Vietnam? What the FUCK, has anything got to do with Vietnam? What the fuck are you talking about?‟ The dialogue has no rhyme or reason to it because the characters frequently bring up random topics that have nothing to do with the main storyline.
The humor comes from the cluelessness of the main characters and their misunderstandings. The dialogue is filled with quotable lines that come from a brilliant script that was originally misunderstood, which can be seen when Steve Buscemi is told to “Shut the fuck up, Donnie” in response to his role in Fargo where his character never shut up.
4. Quirky characters. Julianne Moore’s, Maude Lebowski is the perfect example of a quirky character whose role is pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things but exists because of her often-comedic interactions with The Dude. Because of the episodic nature of the film there is room given to a lot of different random and quirky characters that exist in this world.
The greatest character is easily Jesus Quintana, portrayed by John Turturro, who is an opponent of The Dude’s bowling team that speaks in the third person. Hell, Flea from the rock band The Red Hot Chili Peppers even shows up as a ferret-owning psychopath who gets a bowling ball thrown into his chest.
There is plenty more to love about this film, such as the amazing soundtrack and the fact that it is the only great film to include a bowling tournament. And it is completely understandable how certain individuals don’t get what the Coen Brothers are trying to do here. The fact that The Big Lebowski has a complicated plot that serves no real purpose and is filled with random scenes and irrelevant dialogue can definitely alienate the viewer.
There are also reasons why this film has gained a cult following and a legion of fans. The Big Lebowski is unique and completely original and proves that not every great comedy needs to have a plot or a great storyline; sometimes well-written, quotable characters are all that you need. In my opinion The Big Lebowski deserves its cult status even if it alienates an occasional viewer.
And remember…The Dude abides.