I rented The Big Lebowski
because I liked other films by the Coen brothers, although they often make me nervous with their graphic violence, and I'd read about its cult status. I can see why it didn't do well at the box office; if you took out the profanity, it would be a short subject (But that doesn't really explain why Pulp Fiction
did so well, does it?]. I can also see why it's become a cult film. Donny's funeral oration itself is worth the rental fee.
It has the same humor as Raising Arizona
and O Brother Where Art Thou?
and the shock of sudden violence of Fargo
, Miller's Crossing
and Blood Simple
. The unrelenting profanity and strangeness of the characters make the movie hard to get into, but it certainly is a Coen Brothers movie. John Goodman plays the same cocksure, bubble-off-plumb oddball he plays in their other films, and the rest of the Coen repertoir company, John Turturro, Jon Polito and Steve Buschemi are there too.
I guess what I like so much about these films is the surrealism. All the characters are typical of people we've all known, but taken to bizarre extremes. There's that juxtaposition of banality and stark terror that we see in the news, and that LA noir that Raymond Chandler was so good at, as viewed by an aging stoner. The narration, the 70s music and pop references, and the sequences of The Dude's bouts of unconsciousness when he's been beat up or drugged add to the effect.
Usually, when there's this much weirdness in a movie you expect some kind of message, but there isn't one. It just leaves a taste of how screwed up people can get when they don't have to struggle for survival and/or have more money than is good for them. It's kind of a vision of the American dream on acid. Everybody in this movie is like a bad trip. Bummer, man. At the end you're stunned and slightly hung over, and if you told anybody about it nobody would believe you. It's a lucid dream, of screwy Vietnam vets, nihilists with Arnold accents , profanity, pornography, White Russians, con artists, yappy lapdogs and Hispanic child-molester bowling league champion contenders. The social circle from Hell, man, with an Elvis and country-western soundtrack. Only in America, dude.
I can imagine people in bars and frathouses reciting memorable lines
(You human paraquat!) and laughing about just about every scene in the film. The Dude abides, along with ears bitten off and severed digits in the Wendy's chili.