The Big Lebowski was released in theaters 20 years ago, on March 6, 1998. While everyone has, like, their own opinion, man, on which Coen Brothers movie is the best, none have entrenched themselves in the public consciousness quite like their tale about bowling, crime, greed, and a rug that really tied the room together. Some of their other movies have also received acclaim and critical success and had memorable characters and hilarious scenes, so what is it about this unusual comedy noir that has made it such a cult classic over two decades? It all goes back to The Dude who abides.
It’s not hard to understand why people love The Big Lebowski: it has an unusual, engrossing plot that keeps the film moving forward with energy, its fantastic sprawling cast is populated with unforgettable performances, and it’s one of the most quotable movies ever made. Fucking-A, man, it’s hilarious. And the something that makes the biggest fans of the movie so passionate is Jeff Bridges‘ The Dude.
Part of what makes him such a notable character is obvious. His life of ease is appealing in a world that values work over happiness. He’s chill and mostly concerned with enjoying the simple things in life–bowling, a White Russian, coitus. And he’s really fun to spend time with. Who wouldn’t want to bowl with The Dude?
He’s a philosophical guru. It shines when Sam Elliott’s cowboy stranger/narrator says to him, “Take it easy, Dude. I know that you will.” The Dude turns, shrugs his shoulders, and says, “The Dude abides.”
It’s one of the best remembered lines in a movie full of catchy quotes, but what exactly does it mean? Does the Dude obey? Tolerate? Endure? How can he mean “abide” in a way that makes us feel good? The answer is found in how he acts throughout the movie.
For as much as we think of The Dude as the epitome of a relaxed human, he spends a lot of the movie yelling. He yells at Walter (constantly), he yells at the Big Lebowski, he yells at Little Larry Sellers. He’s stressed, angry, and sarcastic in multiple scenes–hardly the response of the most chill man in Los Angeles. And of course he goes to tremendous lengths to get a rug for his living room, even though doing so leads to a threat his “johnson” getting cut off. No rug, no matter how much it ties the room together, is worth such a price. That’s a clear “let it go” situation.
That’s why the real reason The Dude has endured is his overall approach to life. When he says he “abides,” he’s talking about how he rolls with the punches life throws at him. When people call on him, he answers whether it’s his landlord Marty asking him to come to his show or Maude requesting his presence. When Walter comes up with insane plans The Dude doesn’t stop him. When goons dunk his head in the toilet, he retrieves his sunglasses and puts them back on. He accepts what the universe throws at him–the good, the bad, the weird–and he deals with it. He’s not fighting life by saying no, he goes with the flow.
But even better, and what really makes The Dude someone worth emulating, is how he never carries his anger with him. He shrugs it off and keeps moving. No matter how angry he is at Walter, it’s nothing that stays with him when he arrives at the bowling alley. There’s too much in life to enjoy to waste time dwelling on the bad. That’s why he’ll make a White Russian with powdered milk if it’s all that’s available. It’s not ideal, but that’s better than not having one at all.
Most of us couldn’t–and wouldn’t want to–live The Dude’s life. It’s hard to be so lazy. Bathrobes aren’t really an “outside” garment. We don’t care all that much about any rug we own. But we’d probably all be a lot happier if we took his approach to life. That’s why fans watch this movie over and over again, it’s an attitude we take comfort in. As Sam Elliott says, “It’s good knowing he’s out there.”
“The Dude abides” is a philosophy that is just as appealing as it was 20 years ago. That’s why The Dude has endured.
Jeff Bridges, John Goodman and Steve Buscemi spend some time in an alley in “The Big Lebowski.
It’s too easy to spill ink waxing about the ways in which Coen brothers’ “The Big Lebowski” has embedded itself in our culture.
The film, which was released 20 years ago this week, is no average cult flick showing at midnight at your local art house theater.
Though the movie was not a huge box-office success, it has since spawned a pseudo-religion, Dudeism, with more than 450,000 “ordained priests;” annual festivals around the country where thousands of costume-clad fans gather to celebrate the film and all its obscure moments; books and academic treatments; White Russian competitions, and legions of fans so fervent that they inspired a film of their own, the documentary, “The Achievers.”
But there is a small group of people who were not impressed with the film, at least when it came out: Many critics were quick to dismiss it as self-indulgent and chaotic. (The Washington Post’s Desson Howe was not one of them — “the Coens have defined and mastered their own bizarre subgenre,” he wrote in his 1998 review, but The Post’s current critic Ann Hornaday has been less impressed).
We took a look at some of the more negative reviews of the film written after its release on March 6, 1998, and reached out with a simple query for the critics who penned them: Would you review “The Big Lebowski” similarly now? Or has your opinion of the movie changed with the benefit of two decades’ time?