Sunday, December 1, 2019

Zen and the Art of Bowling

This is my entry in the Jeff Bridges Blogathon hosted by Thoughts All Sorts.

Way back in, like, 1996, man, the writing/directing duo of brothers Joel and Ethan Coen were riding high on the accolades of their recent production, Fargo.  The film had just given the brothers their highest exposure yet, and was nominated for a slew of Oscars.  It only won two, however, one of them for Best Adapted Screenplay.  (It suffered from being pitted against The English Patient, which won most of the awards with which it was in competition.)

So these dudes decided their next project was going to be a spin on the classic genre of film noir.  Go figure.  I mean, there hadn't been a decent take on film noir since, like, back in the early seventies with Chinatown.  But these brothers were pretty sure they had something going with this idea.

As per their usual, they hashed out a script, sometimes even with a specific actor or actress in mind, writing the script to fit a certain personality in their prospective portrayers.  So you gotta understand, man, like, characters are really what the Coens saw in specific actors and wrote to their abilities.

When the movie came out, it wasn't much of a success.  Certainly not the equivalent of what either the Coens or their critics or their public expected as a follow-up to Fargo.  It barely even made a profit (just $3 million over it's budget in its initial U.S. run).

But unlike most movies that don't make much of an impact at the theaters, this one took on a life of its own after the fact.  It had a cult following you wouldn't believe.  I mean, sure, man, you can see the profound effect that a Star Trek had on the geek culture, with Trekkie conventions out the wazoo.  But you missed out on the stoner culture in that category.

Not that stoners make up a good cult following enough to warrant a convention.  Otherwise we might have been inundated with Cheech and Chong conventions over the past 40 years.  But The Big Lebowski took on something that apparently those two stoners from Up in Smoke didn't have.  It is imminently quotable.

Which is how the first Lebowski-Fest got started.  Two guys who worked conventions with their own booth found out they both could spout Lebowski-isms ad infinitum, and really got going with it when they found a slew of like-minded individuals.  The first Lebowski-Fest got started, and has been going fairly strong in its own right ever since.

I came into the Lebowski universe relatively late.  I watched it for the first time one evening with my recovery sponsor, who was a big fan, in 2010.  He must've seen I was a potential for being a devotee.  (And earlier this year I got a chance to see it on a big screen when Flashback Cinema, had it for it's weekly entry.)  The movie is oddball enough to appeal to my quirky sensibilities.  And like a previous entry on this blog, The Big Sleep, it has a plot that jumps around so much you need a GPS navigator to keep up.

So, like, are you ready, man?  Let's go bowling.

The Big Lebowski (1998):

Way back in 1991, during the (first) crisis with Saddam and the Iraqis, there is this guy, called The Dude (Jeff Bridges),  His given name is Jeffrey Lebowski, but nobody calls him the that.  He is just known as "The Dude". (or " His Dudeness" or "Duder" or even "El Duderino" if you're not into that whole brevity thing...)  The Dude approaches life with a nonchalance that would be the envy of any Buddhist trying to achieve Zen.  

The Zen Master  aka "The Dude"

The Dude's troubles start when he is mistaken for another Jeffrey Lebowski, a rich cuss who has a trophy wife who has a penchant for leaving gambling debts all over town.  When two hoodlum collecting agents show up to try to collect the money the rich Lebowski owes, mistaking The Dude for him,  they wreck havoc all over The Dude's apartment, with a final injustice being one of them takes a leak on The Dude's rug.  Which is a shame, because that rug really tied the room together.

Hoodlum collectors

At the bowling league, The Dude's partners, Walter (John Goodman) and Donny (Steve Buscemi) convince The Dude he needs to approach the guilty rich Lebowski and try to get justice (or at least a replacement rug.)

The Dude, Donny and Walter

Which he does.  But the encounter doesn't go well.  The "Big" Lebowski (David Huddleston) kicks him out, but not before calling The Dude some rather select names, impugning The Dude's dedication to being a productive member of society.  But The Dude leaves with a rug anyway, telling Lebowski's assistant, Brandt (Philip Seymour Hoffman) that Lebowski had given him permission.

The "Big" Lebowski


Flash forward a couple of days.  Brandt contacts The Dude with a problem.  It seems that Lebowski's trophy wife, Bunny (Tara Reid) has been kidnapped.


The kidnappers are demanding a million dollars in ransom.  Lebowski wants The Dude to be the courier.  But when The Dude talks with Walter and Donny about it, Walter comes to the conclusion that the kidnapping is a ruse, that Bunny is just trying to extort more money.  So Walter hatches a plan in which they will pass off a gym bag with his undies as the drop and keep the money.  Which is a success, somewhat...

It gets even more complicated.  While the guys are rolling a few lanes at the bowling alley someone steals The Dude's car, with the briefcase of money still inside.  And the supposed kidnappers come by demanding the real money.  Plus Maude (Julianne Moore), Lebowski's daughter, and, as it turns out, the real financial genius of the family, tries to get The Dude to recover the stolen money from he kidnappers, claiming that the whole thing is a ruse, set up by her father to get money for himself.

Maude Lebowski

Except, of course, if you were paying attention, the money was not dropped off, and The Dude doesn't have it either.  It turns out that a hoodlum wanna-be, a high school student, hijacked The Dude's car and took it for a joy ride.  When the car is found, the briefcase is gone, so quite naturally the guys come to the conclusion the kid has the dough.  And proceed to try to intimidate him into returning the money. 

The kid

It gets even more complicated (as if it wasn't already by now).   No one seems to know where the money is, since the kid didn't have it.  And a band of nihilists who are the supposed kidnappers wreak even more havoc on The Dude's apartment in an attempt to get the money.

So who's actually got the bag of dough.  You may be surprised.  Word of warning, as with any film noir, don't trust anyone.

What with Goodman and Buscemi as co-stars, it couldn't get much better.  But oh, it does.  Check out John Turturro as fellow bowler, Jesus, with a penchant for his balls.  And Ben Gazzarra as Jackie Treehorn,  a porn king.  And Jon Polito, a consummate character actor as a private detective trying to horn in on what he thinks is a fellow private detective, The Dude.  And to top it off there's Sam Elliott as our humble guide/narrator into the world of the Zen Master, The Dude.

Don't mess with The Jesus

Jackie Treehorn and his hoods

Another detective

"The Stranger"

So take a couple of hours out of your day, sit back with your favorite beverage and check out how The Dude approaches the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (or a bag of dirty undies).  And if you don't agree with me that this movie rocks, well, that's just, like, your opinion, man...

Screw it, dude.  Time to go bowling.  Drive safely, folks.



  1. To be honest, I didn't "get it." Love the actors and the Coen Bros., but the movie's humor went over my head (I much preferred The Hudsucker Proxy or Barton Fink). I do want to re-watch it soon.

    1. It may take a quirky sort to "get it". Look at the people who show up for the Lebowski Fests... :-D Thanks for reading.

  2. Replies
    1. I can bowl better than you, Walter.... :-D Thanks for reading.


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