Volume 91, Issue 85

Wednesday, March 11, 1998

home and dry


The brothers succeed again with this big hit

By Dan Yurman
Gazette Staff

When Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn, he attached a warning to it that said "persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot." It is very possible that The Big Lebowski, the fantastic new film from Joel and Ethan Coen, was based purely on this disclaimer. While the film is mostly set in one place and really doesn't go anywhere in terms of story, it's still excellent thanks to one thing: characters and characterization.

During the Persian Gulf War, there are two Jeff Lebowskis living in Los Angeles. One is a high roller, the other is a low life (Jeff Bridges) who calls himself Dude. When thugs are sent to get money from the former Lebowski, they accidently knock on the door of the latter Lebowski, rough him up and urinate on his carpet. Dude decides to seek revenge on the thugs, not for the beating, but for the damaged carpet because, as he says, "that rug really tied the room together." From there, the plot twists, turns and tangles into semi-organized mayhem.

It's the characters that make the film work. The range of personalities covering the screen throughout the movie is so diverse and obtuse that it makes the audience forget the ridiculous plot. The Dude is a bum who lives to get high, listen to CCR and bowl with his two buddies, Walter and Donny. Walter (John Goodman) is a George Bush-quoting Vietnam veteran whose whole psyche revolves around violence and Donny (Coen favourite Steve Buscemi) is a moron who is never allowed to finish a thought or sentence. As the film moves along, the audience has the pleasure of meeting Jesus (John Tutturo), a bowling expert, Maude (Julianne Moore), an erotic dancer and the Big Lebowski (David Huddleston), a wheelchair-ridden man out to save his own hide. The film then proceeds to throw all these characters into one big mix of dream sequences, excellent dialogue exchanges and improbable situations.

Many people argue that Quentin Tarantino was the founder of the new cinema based on a loose plot and character-driven narrative. It was the Coen Brothers who really began the trend in the 1980s. They wrote the book on plotless achievements and The Big Lebowski is yet another superlative chapter.

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department: gazent@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998