Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Big Lebowski

I was watching this again with friends last night, for the first time in too long. While there are films I would name as superior artistic achievements, I really can't think of any that I love more. Few movies hold up to repeated viewings as well as this one, and there are only a small handful of flaws that keep it from being perfect. There's something special about it, like you could try to replicate its success with the same amount of talent both behind and in front of the camera and never find the same magic in a hundred years. Instead of pontificating on why it works, I'll just start listing little details you might not notice the first couple times but help show why it's such a cult favorite. It really is the epitome of that sort of thing, failing when it was in theaters, but it's hard to find someone in my age group who hasn't seen it at this point.

- There's a lot of stuff with shirts that's fun. Most people have noticed that Donnie's bowling shirts never actually have his name on them, but fewer know that between their first and second scenes, Jackie Treehorn's two thugs decided to switch what they were wearing.
- It's fun to think about how people became friends. Walter and the Dude get along but really don't have much in common, leading us to think they were put in a situation where they were forced to find common ground, like they went to college together and were roommates or something. Neither one seems to care much for Donnie, but you can see how they saw his bowling talent and befriended him so they could use him on the team, and him being so weird accepted the only friends he could get.
- A bit more mysterious is how the Jesus and Liam became bowling buddies. The best theory I've heard is that the latter is the former's parole officer.
- Not really a fun fact, but Philip Seymour Hoffman is fantastic in this movie. And it's the only time I've ever seen something make Tara Reid useful.
- When he's discussing the toe with Walter in the diner, the Dude gets angry and dumps some change on the counter to pay for his coffee. It's easy to miss that he picks up a joint he accidentally grabbed with the money before he shuffles out of the place a bit too quickly.
- Walter's inappropriate references to Vietnam are great, but I might like his flashbacks even more. It only happens a couple times, but he'll forget where he is for a minute.
- Have you ever made note of how many times the movie could have ended if the Dude just stayed out of things? Eventually he gets in too deep, but if Walter never told him to go see the other Lebowski, or if he didn't take that specific rug from the place, and so on.
- It's gotta be common knowledge for fans at this point, but it's great how much of the Dude's dialogue is taken from what he's heard other people say and how all the elements of his dreams come from somewhere else in the film. Perhaps the best instance of this is when he tells Larry he's going to castrate him.
- How sad is it that Donnie's bowling buddies are the only ones at his funeral. Does he really have no family at all? I assume they knew him well enough to contact them if he did.
- The entire arc of Jackie's pornographic doodle is great. For one thing, it's a great drawing. For another, why is he drawing that while he's on the phone? What the Dude does is one of his smartest moments, but he gets nothing out of it, and of course it's the only thing in his pockets after he's arrested besides his Ralph's card.

I'm running out of steam here, so I'll wrap it up. Like I said, there are some issues with the movie and I'll touch on those. When the Dude gets thrown out of the cab and Bunny zooms by, the shot lasts too long and the Dude's expression of bewildered dismay ends up looking artificial. It's a very small problem, but again, we're talking about one of my favorite movies ever. Another thing is that I think there's only one scene in the movie that doesn't feature the Dude, the very brief snippet where we see the nihilists ordering breakfast. It's not really necessary because the other scene shows Bunny's toes intact, and it would have been nice if you could say there is no scene in the film without its protagonist. It's a stylistic thing, and when you're that close, you might as well go for it. These are both minor quibbles of course, small bumps in what is still one of cinema's most enjoyable experiences. I don't doubt that I like the movie just a bit too much, but I'm okay with that.

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