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Courtesy of Working Title Films

April 15, 2018

GUEST ROOM | An Ode to The Dude

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Many of us are easily familiar with the name “Lebowski.” When we hear it, we think of bathrobes, bowling balls and buddy-love between John Goodman’s Walter and Jeff Bridges’ The Dude. With its one-of-a-kind storyline and its clever comedic interjections, The Big Lebowski has become a household film title, an easy answer to the ice-breaker question “favorite movie?” and a classic go-to choice when you and your friends couldn’t agree on anything else to watch on Netflix. But the film has not always been held in such high regards.

Twenty years ago, when it was first released, The Big Lebowski was met with dissatisfaction and criticism. The reviews were mediocre at best, and in the box office, it was far from a hit. So how is it that an average movie from March of 1998 has survived and even transcended movie culture twenty years later? Well, as The Dude would say, people just didn’t get it, man.

A sizeable portion of the critiques focused on the plot and the apparent inessential scenes throughout. Critics believed the addition of these scenes led to a confusing storyline. These scenes, however, are indeed necessary. It is the inclusion of these seemingly unimportant moments that makes the movie what it is and represent the Coen brothers’ unique style. True, they may not serve to advance us closer to a resolution, but they do make it a much more enjoyable ride. The Big Lebowski wouldn’t be the same without John Turturro’s Jesus with his customized bowling uniform, or the Dude’s musical trip after getting drugged. Not everything in movies need to serve the direct purpose of starting or resolving conflict.

Many movie critics have since gone back on their initial commentary, saying that the meaning of the flick went right over their heads, or that they missed the point completely. The excess of witty humor that the Coen brothers offer throughout the storyline is easily overlooked and underappreciated.

It was not the experts in cinema that kept this film alive, but the avid movie-goers who saw something more than a lazy and lucky main character who lived in a constant haze. The Big Lebowski has lived on thanks to these followers. It has become a cult movie, like Animal House and The Goonies before it, revamping the love for a certain creamy cocktail and inspiring a whole new quasi-religion: Dudeism.

March of 1998 marked the start of a cult following and a lifestyle change for many people. The followers of Dudeism practice Lebowski’s philosophy on life: to go with the flow and stay calm, no matter what hits you.

The Coen brothers had already earned praise in Hollywood before the production of The Big Lebowski with projects like Fargo and Raising Arizona. Their films are fairly easy to spot, as they have a perfected style; one consisting of a unique underdog as a main character, curious camera shots, and witty humor that may take a second to understand. Many of their works have earned them recognition and acclaim by the Academy of Motion Pictures, as they have been nominated for best picture four times and won it once. But, the adventures of the Dude in this 1998 classic embodies their style better than most of their other films. Despite its lack of nominations, The Big Lebowski is well argued to be the Coen Brothers’ best creation, since it has lived on in ways their other movies haven’t been able to do.

This one-hour, fifty-seven minute flick has become a bit of a cultural phenomenon in its lifetime. You can think of it like a nice zinfandel from California’s upper Napa Valley. Not great when it first comes out, but let it age a few years, and people learn to appreciate it. It is easy to list the ways Lebowski has influenced today’s culture, with White Russian competitions and festivals that sport statues of The Dude. But going further than just the tangible evidence, this Coen brothers masterpiece has given us a definitive make-or-break in relationships. If they don’t like The Big Lebowski, it’s safe to say they’re not a keeper.

This film has sparked a newfound adoration of bowling, an entire religion, and an uptick in the sales of Kahlua coffee liqueur. So next March, let us all take a page out of the Dudeist’s doctrine this year, and celebrate “The Day of the Dude”.

AJ Stella is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at ajs548@cornell.edu. Guest Room runs periodically this semester.