"Your revolution is over, Mr. Lebowski. Condolences. The bums lost." - the Big Lebowski
"This is a very complicated case, Maude. Lots of ins, lots of outs." - the Dude
"Shut the fuck up, Donny!" - Walter
Set in Los Angeles in the year 1990, this is a movie about how mistaken identity draws an aging hipster into a web of intrigue and criminal activity. I can't say any more without revealing the plot...oh, wait, the plot doesn't even matter. This uniquely brilliant film lifts the story structure of 1946's The Big Sleep and uses it as a backdrop for memorable character portrayals and hilarious quotable dialogue. It never stops being funny, even after multiple viewings. But, like the contemporaneous television show Seinfeld, it is essentially about nothing.
Actually, it's a richly textured and deeply sentimental portrait of America during the final decades of the twentieth century, a fragmented and aimless time, marked by its unique generational constellation.
The main protagonists, a laid-back hippie known as "the Dude" and an emotionally volatile Vietnam vet named Walter, are members of the Baby Boomer generation. They embody their generation's character archetype mainly through their ceaseless arguing and unbridled passion.
Jeffrey Lebowski, aka "the Dude", is a foul-mouthed, drug and drink-addled slackard with absolutely no ambitions in life other than to get high and to bowl. Or, as the narrator describes him at the start of the movie, he is "the man for his time and place." His bowling companion Walter Sobchak is one of the most magnificent characters every brought to life on screen. You have to watch this movie just to marvel at John Goodman's genius portraying this tragi-comic figure.
A third and lesser character bowls on their team, the hapless Donny Kerabatsos. Although portrayed by Boomer Steve Buscemi, he is the Gen-Xer who is not in his element, just tagging along for the ride. Abused, disrespected, taken advantage of, he embodies the alienated post-Boomer archetype.
At the top of the generational ladder is the title character, a wealthy philanthropist who shares the Dude's given name (hence the case of mistaken identity). The Big Lebowski is venal and conniving; not much better is his peer Jackie Treehorn, a purveyor of pornography. Together these two men represent the Silent generation's permissive and detached stewardship of the social era.
The two primary female characters in the movie are the Big Lebowski's Gen-X trophy wife, Bunny, and his Boomer sister, avant-garde artist Maude, both with a part to play in the story's unraveling conspiracy. Each personifies her generation's archetype - Bunny is shallow and shameslessly promiscuous, while Maude is clinical and self-absorbed. These are the women available to the men of the time. The men themselves are an assortment of weirdos, perverts, and losers. Not surprisingly, all of the characters are single.
As The Big Lebowski rambles on to its pointless conclusion, it paints a poignant picture of the lives and times of late twentieth century Americans. Everyone pursues their own individual agenda, no one can really be trusted, communication is constantly crossed, and there is no ultimate conclusion, except that life goes on. The movie has become a cult classic, and it's no wonder, since it perfectly captures the spirit of its age.
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