Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Pose Reviews A Movie. #2: The Big Lebowski (1998)

Well I won’t lie to you. The first time I saw The Big Lebowski back in 2006, I didn’t like it.

Nowadays, I probably couldn’t even tell you why. It’s not that I didn’t dig The Dude and his charmingly mellow demeanour. (Which I did.)

It’s not that I didn’t find John Turturro’s portrayal of Jesus, the unnecessarily hardcore bowler, to be downright hilarious. (Which it is.)

And it’s not that Walter, played by John Goodman, pissed me off more then than he does now. (Which he does.)

For some reason, this cult classic from the Brothers Coen just didn’t come together for me. I didn’t jive with Lebowski, and for two years, I let this opinion stand.

Fast-forward to 2008.

I’m on a four-month exchange in Denmark, it’s a Tuesday night, and my roommate suggests that we watch it.

Now, I have a situation on my hands. Either I can agree, and pretend I’ve never seen it, or I can tell him what I really thought, and risk a really awkward living situation for the next several months.

I KNOW how much people who love The Big Lebowski love The Big Lebowski, and the last thing I want to do is offend one of them, IN THEIR OWN HOME!

But, seeing as how he was a peaceful, non-violent fellow, indeed the Danish equivalent of The Dude himself, I levelled with him.

I said something like, “I don’t know man, I watched that movie like two years ago and couldn’t get into it.” And then promptly dove behind a chair in anticipation of something flying across the room with my head as its eventual destination.

But he just grinned and asked, “Did you watch it with people who also hadn’t seen it before?”

I had. But why did it matter?

And then he revealed to me the divine secret of The Big Lebowski.

“The thing with The Big Lebowski is, you’ve got to watch it with someone who loves it. You’ll laugh when they laugh, and you’ll see what they see in the film. And once you’ve done that, you’ll love it too. I’ve seen it happen a thousand times, and I promise that once you’ve watched it with me, you’ll change your mind.”

So I did. And sure enough, I was converted. I finally came to appreciate the sheer magnitude of the film’s zaniness, the witty dialogue, the outlandish yet consistent character portrayals, and the proof that Joel and Ethan Coen have nothing short of a gift for niche filmmaking.

These Coen brothers have a knack for pinpointing tiny sects of American culture, and making them larger than life by bringing them to the screen. In The Big Lebowski’s case, Joel and Ethan use an elaborate kidnapping scheme to highlight the uniquely distinct personalities and world-view of a couple of bowling fanatics, one of America’s thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of subcultures. And although The Dude and Walter Sobchak probably aren’t indicative of The Bowler at Large in America, they’re such endearing personages that we can’t help but wish they were.

The Big Lebowski takes the bowlers out of the bowling alley, confronts them with an outlandish situation they’d be highly unlikely to face under regular circumstances, and derives unparalleled humour from the way they conduct themselves in their interactions with society’s rich and eccentric.

Its brilliance is in its specificity, and it’s why a movie like The Big Lebowski is so rare, and thus so beloved. In fact, Big Lebowski fanatics occupy a similar ‘cult subculture’ to the bowling fanatics in the film, which gives America yet another niche of people to embrace. And the legend continues.

So here I am, a Big Lebowski convert, who has just been told by his girlfriend that she hasn’t seen the film. So what do I do? I tell her exactly what my Danish roommate told me--that she should watch it with someone who loves it, and now that I do, that someone might as well be me. So we rented it and watched it on Valentine’s Day, and sure enough, she joined the prestigious club. And one day she’ll do the same for one of her friends, and on it goes.

So that’s the story. It seems a bit silly to write a standard review for a film that has been so loved for so long by so many, so instead I wanted to provide this prescription for how to view it. If you haven’t seen The Big Lebowski, or saw it once and didn’t like it, try it with someone who loves it. I guarantee you know someone who does--and after that viewing, I can almost promise that your opinion will change.

And if not, fuck it. Just go bowling.

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