So how does The Big Lebowski really fit into the context of modern cinema? Well, as it turns out, the film is very different from its origins as auteur artist movies like Crazy Heart, or even Wrecking Baloney. In that earlier film, the artistic content was clearly delineated for audiences, while here, the content is somewhat hazy and vague – as in many animated films today. As such, the film becomes much more of an auteur film, rather than one of the more experimental films with which we are accustomed.
So first of all, what exactly is The Big Lebowski? loosely based on the true story of the author of the same name, the film follows the titular Big Lebowski, a hard-boiled, honest and ultimately misunderstood blue collar cowboy, who happens to be the town drunkard and bowling ball player, is known only to his friends. At the beginning of the movie, we see that Lebowski’s life has been a miserable existence, especially after he gets laid off from his job as a result of an ugly divorce. But he has a final epiphany at the bar where he realizes that he wants to go out on a limb and try for a certain sense of personal fortune. He thus enters the world of adult contemporary bowling where he runs into the bowler named Jeffrey “The Big Leb” Lockey, who is equally as miserable andicksy as the earlier character.
The Big Lebowski follows the path of the road rage incident further, as the two brothers begin to antagonize each other and create several more unlikely characters. Eventually the bowling alley owners tries to warn the brothers about their abrasive behavior, but they disregard him and go on a spree of destruction, even kidnapping an oil company executive (although later he would regret his decision). They are soon joined by the local authorities and the movie ends with several long chase scenes involving shoot outs and car chases through the streets of Chicago. Throughout the film, various surreal moments occur when the characters drive up to familiar locations, such as the house that their grandmother lived in or the drug store where their father worked.
The Big Lebowski also chronicles the characters’ gradual transformation from simple, everyday people into hardened killing machines. The bowling alleys and the local authorities quickly point out that the bowling balls the Lebowsks smash are the same brand and the same size as those used by Jeffrey (Brantley Cantle), who is identified as the brother-in-law of Holly (Sandra Oh), the well-intentioned and innocent wife of Albie (John Candy). Eventually the bowling alley employees learn of the brothers’ nefarious activities, which include eluding police and committing numerous crimes, such as murder, conspiracy, robbery, arson, racketeering, burglary, and auto theft. Neighbors warn the authorities and the FBI, but nothing is done to stop the bowlines and their friends from destroying the town. Eventually, after several tense and bloody shootouts between the bowlines, the authorities close in on them and arrest them, charging Walter with murder, together with two other suspects, but the case is complicated by the fact that all the victims were killed using the same knife.
While many movie critics have criticized The Big Lebowski for its overdone and generic plotting, it is important to take literary merit to a higher level. No one can deny that the characters in the film are exaggerated to the point of making the viewer believe that they actually exist, despite the fact that the director only uses one, brief scene to show the killing of each character. This technique is used frequently in movies, especially action movies, where the actors must physically perform physical acts hundreds of times before the audience realizes that they are actors. Even if the plot is completely fake, the audience will accept it because the characters are the most convincing ones.
One of the most important themes of the movie, besides the race between thekies and white-collar families, is the struggle between the twin brother Binky (Eddie Murphy) who are a wise and caring person, yet extremely violent, and his younger sister Julie (Diane Lane). Binky is the leader of the crew that night watches the Big Lebowski whenever possible, yet he does not feel the need to protect the family like his older brother did. Instead, he is willing to go out in the cold to find a woman, but when his sister is captured by the rival bowling league, he kills her instead.
This act is the catalyst for the entire film, as Binky then travels across the country to find the FBI man, authorities, and bowling alley owner (plus a few other tough guys) responsible for his sister’s death. Together, they seek out the real culprit, which turns out to be a pair of exterminators working for a bowling alley in Wisconsin. The bowling alley owner tries to offer a deal to Binky: if he gives him eight hundred dollars, he will allow the brothers to use the bowling alley for free for the next seven years. Before the brothers accept the offer, they learn that there was another crime committed with his bowling alley – and that the bowling alley owner is now dead.
The Big Lebowski follows the storyline quite closely, almost as if it were written as an extended sequel to the first film. As in the first movie, the main characters have to travel across the country, search for clues, solve puzzles, and generally have a good time doing so. Unlike the first film, the supporting cast almost takes over here, as well as a great supporting role for David Huddleston (who really comes into his own during the climax of the movie). Although the plot isn’t as intricate or as long as the first film, The Big Lebowski still is an enjoyable movie and I thoroughly recommend it. If you enjoy the early 80s comedy classic, you’ll love The Big Lebowski!