Last Monday marked the 20th anniversary of the release of the ever-curious film “The Big Lebowski.” Directed by the Academy Award winning duo of Joel and Ethan Coen, it’s a movie — perhaps the movie — that many people reference and few truly understand. Receiving mixed reviews at the time of its release, it has since become one of the most well-known cult pictures of both past and present pop culture.
The film follows a man named Jeffery Lebowski, referred to by most only as ‘The Dude.’ Portrayed by Jeff Bridges (“Tron,” “Starman”), The Dude is a middle-aged unemployed shirker who lives in L.A. and spends most of his time bowling with his friends Walter and Donny, played respectively by John Goodman and Steve Buscemi. The Dude’s casual life is interrupted, however, when a pair of thugs mistake him for another man named Jeffrey Lebowski, a millionaire whose wife they claim owes their employer a large sum of money. From there the story becomes a series of kidnappings, deceptions, property damage, red herrings, dream sequences, rug thefts, and lots of bowling. The film also features Julianne Moore, John Turturro, Philip Seymour Hoffman, David Huddleston and Tara Reid in supporting roles. Sam Elliot provides the voice of The Stranger, the mostly-unseen narrator of the film.
The plot of “The Big Lebowski” is unique in that it is nearly nonexistent. Most of the aforementioned events have little to no consequence on the overall outcome. The majority of the characters experience hardly any development, and each situation seems like a pointless detour from a story that never really starts. The plot is difficult to follow and relatively roundabout. The film, much like the Dude himself, merely meanders, and ultimately accomplishes nothing significant by the end.
However, there is an odd artfulness to this. Though it has been interpreted differently by many viewers, on a surface-level “The Big Lebowski” isn’t about anything. It presents no specific conflict or theme. It doesn’t try to push commentary or break cinematic ground. It doesn’t even restrain itself to any particular genre, instead casually spanning through several elements of comedy, drama, crime, action, and mystery. It’s essentially about “nothing.” The film works largely because of its creatively colorful set design, tongue-in-cheek dialogue, and Bridges’ mellow yet lightly concerned performance as the Dude. It’s a cleverly-crafted mess that perfectly captures the cinematic equivalent of a good-natured shrug.