Outside the Frame

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Film Review: The Big Lebowski

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The Coen brothers are anything but your standard directors. But of course that is what makes them so good.

And The Big Lebowski is anything but your ordinary film. Nailing down what the film is about is quite a slippery task, but then that really is the point. The film tells the story of Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski, an ageing unemployed hippy living in Los Angeles, who through a case of mistaken identity, gets caught up in a confusing ordeal involving kidnapping, extortion, the porn industry, and of course, bowling. Confused for a much richer Jeffrey Lebowski by some dim-witted thugs seeking money owed, who end up soiling his beloved rug, The Dude embarks on a crusade to be compensated for said rug that “really tied the room together”. Along the way The Dude finds himself mixed up with German nihilists, porn stars, a feminist artist, a severed toe, a sexually perverted rival bowler and the Malibu police department.

Within this twisting narrative, it is really the characters that shine through. And that is what they are: “characters”. The whole film is a heightened example of the absurd, and each character is more absurd than the next. From the three German nihilists who are a mix of Nazi’s, sadists and Kraftwerk, to Julianne Moore’s peculiar feminist artist Maude Lebowski, to John Turturro’s briefly seen but delightfully crazy Jesus Quintana, they are like nothing you have ever seen, and utterly Coenesque. Perhaps the most memorable is John Goodman as loose cannon Walter Sobchak, The Dude’s bowling buddy. Here Goodman puts in the best performance of his career, a highly-strung barrel of nerves, rage and delusion that leaves you laughing with glee and shaking your head in shock.

And then there is The Dude. As Sam Elliot’s narrator tells us, The Dude is a man of his time: An ex-radical hippy, who is simply passing the time through Los Angeles in the early 90’s. And Jeff Bridges IS The Dude. His shuffling performance is accomplished with such ease, and executed with great comedic nuance. From his shabby wardrobe and taste for White-Russians to his mumbling speech and exasperated response to the burdens imposed upon him, The Dude is one of the greatest comic film creations in recent history, and one the collaboration of Bridges and the Coens should be proud of.

It is also the filmmaking talent of the Coen brothers that have made The Big Lebowski into a cult-hit phenomenon. The unravelling of this muddled narrative is a joy to follow, and it is the comedy found within this unfolding, that keeps the audience wanting more. The surreal quality of the film is cleverly handled and the two dream sequences of The Dude are an inspired mix of events from the story and drug-addled insanity. The music in the film is much more than just background noise but plays an incorporated part in the telling of The Dude’s story. And the narration by Sam Elliot’s character at the beginning and end of the film is a nice touch.

The Big Lebowski is an absolute must-see for any fan of the Coen brothers, as well as for anyone who is bored by typical modern film fare. It is worth the watch just to see how an intriguing narrative, wonderful characters, fantastic dialogue and brilliant filmmaking are present in a film of utter irreverence and absolute absurdity, but one that works. You just have to remember one thing: The Dude abides.


Written by Dale Weber

Friday, 7 November, 2008 at 11:19 am

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