When the Cohen brothers’ Big Lebowski was first released in 1998, the reviews of the film were somewhat mixed. While some critics praised the movie, others called the film a “tired idea” and “infuriating.” The film comes across as a stoner comedy, following around a couple of anti-heroes who would always rather be bowling, but the deeper political meanings and references have allowed the film to grow in popularity over the years, so much so that there is now an annual Lebowski Fest, which happens in Louisville, Kentucky.
The Big Lebowski follows the story of The Dude, who is mistakenly thought to be millionaire Jeff Lebowksi. From having his rug urinated on to getting involved in trying to save a trophy wife, a cast of characters that includes Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi and even Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, all become a part of a comedy that deals with serious issues.
References to war are thrown throughout the film, such as the Gulf War (Goodman’s character, Walter predicts it will be a “piece of cake”) and the Cold War, and just as George Bush states that “aggression will not stand” on a television in the opening sequence, the whole film is centred around Walter’s idea that you have to stand up for what is right, even if that gets translated to what you should do when your property gets damaged.
While the political commentary in the film is essential to understanding the Cohen brothers’ message, it is in the character of Walter that the issue of war and trauma is most apparent. Though it is never come out and said, Walter clearly suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. As David Haglund of Slate Magazine wrote, “…Walter is essential to understanding what the Cohen brothers are up to in this movie, which is slyer, more political, and more prescient than many of its fans have recognized.”
To go along with the awesome cast and story is a soundtrack that was produced by T-Bone Burnett. Burnett has worked with the Cohen brothers in films like O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Inside Llewyn Davis as well as with musicians such as Elvis Costello, B.B. King and Robert Plant. The soundtrack itself features music by Bob Dylan, Duke Ellington and the Gipsy Kings, and often times sees the songs take a central role in the scene they are in; case in point is when The Dude declares, “I’ve had a rough night and I hate the fucking Eagles.” Him and a cabby get in an argument and The Dude ends up having to walk home.
The Big Lebowski’s loyal fan base has turned the film into what people call a cult classic. Though it didn’t make much money at the box office, the National Film Registry in the United States added the film to its selection in 2014. Though it took some time, critics and viewers have realized that the opening lines of the film may hold to be true. “Sometimes there’s a man … I won’t say a hero, ’cause, what’s a hero?’ But sometimes, there’s a man. And I’m talkin’ about The Dude here. Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place.”