My least favorite sport of all time is bowling. Apologies to anyone who is an aficionado, but it seems mundane to me. You roll the ball, the pins are knocked down, you set them back up, and repeat. A round could go on forever if they did not cap them at ten frames. Admittedly, part of my distaste is that I was never good at it. My sister was the bowler in our family. She even played on our high school team. I was involved in academic quiz bowl and the armchair strategist club. This last one was a glorified chess team though we played other games, too. Anyway, back to bowling. If that is not a clue for today’s film, then I do not know what to do for you. Yep, it is once again time for me wonder why so many people like a movie, and I have my mind set on The Big Lebowski (1998).
There is a narrator in The Big Lebowski and he is also known as The Stranger (Sam Elliott). For our purposes, he is basically God because, while he shows up in two scenes, he has nothing to do with the proceedings yet knows about all the happenings. This should be worrying because one of the first things he says is that the story you are about to witness does not make a lot of sense. I will do my best to sift through it for you. It is not made easy because the title does not refer to the main character. His name is Jeffrey Lebowski, but he insists on being called The Dude (Jeff Bridges). The Stranger refers to him as the laziest person in Los Angeles, so . . . great. The only reason why anyone would want to rough up such a person as we next see is because of his name. One of the guys who does the roughing decides to pee on The Dude’s rug. As he later relates the story to his two teammates on his bowling team, Donny Kerabatsos (Steve Buscemi) and Walter Sobchak (John Goodman), they all agree that the adornment really tied the room together, despite the space’s dinginess. Because they told The Dude that they were looking for Jeffrey Lebowski, he decides to go to the correct person seeking remuneration for his ruined furniture. The Dude is ushered by the assistant Brandt (Philip Seymour Hoffman) into the presence of “The Big” Lebowski (David Huddleston). In so many words, he sizes up The Dude as a loser and tells him to pound sand. On the way out, The Dude cons a carpet out of Brandt, and meets The Big’s young trophy wife Bunny Lebowski (Tara Reid). She says some explicit things to The Dude, and that is really all you need to know about her. Not long thereafter, however, The Big changes course and contacts The Dude for help. A ransom note has arrived at his estate demanding a million dollars for Bunny’s return. The Big wants The Dude to take the cash and a phone, follow the instructions, and retrieve Bunny in exchange for a percentage of the proceeds. The Dude sees this as an easy way to make a quick load of cash and relates as much to Donny and Walter. One thing that I have yet to mention about Walter is that he is a raving lunatic. He decides to go with The Dude, despite this being against the stated rules and The Dude’s objections, with the intention of throwing the kidnappers a satchel with Walter’s underwear in it and stealing the money. This is only the beginning of The Dude’s problems. Following this fiasco and another evening of bowling, The Dude and Walter walk out to the parking lot to find The Dude’s beat-up car stolen with the million dollars inside it. Thus, not only does The Dude not have Bunny, but he has also lost the ransom money. The plot thickens when his home is broken into once more and the rug he had taken from The Big is literally pulled out from under The Dude. This is done by people working for Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore). When The Dude finally meets her in her weird art studio, she is insistent that Bunny is not kidnapped. As evidence of this supposition, Maude shows The Dude a portion of a pornographic movie Bunny had made. In it, she stars with Uli Kunkel (Peter Stormare), a nihilist, and it is produced by Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara). These are the people The Dude believes are responsible for Bunny’s abduction, or maybe not. He waffles back and forth on this notion at random. The nihilists and Treehorn each threaten The Dude for the money. Hence, he has a lot riding on the return of his car, which happens after the police find it for him and call him to come pick it up. Unfortunately, when he gets to the impound yard, the briefcase with the money is not in the vehicle. Later, he finds the crumpled homework of high schooler Larry Sellers (Jesse Flanagan) in the seat. Figuring he has the money, The Dude and Walter go to the kid’s house, and Walter attempts to intimidate the teenager. The long and short of this sequence is that they do not get the money. Things are foundering for The Dude until he returns to a trashed apartment to find Maude there, who wants to have sex with him. In the aftermath, while she does stretches to ensure fertilization (so hooray for conception, I suppose), she admits to The Dude that The Big has no money of his own. It is all tied up in his foundation, which she controls, and she gives her father an allowance. This clicks for The Dude, telling him that the whole thing had been a sham. It is proved when he and Walter go to his estate and Bunny is there doing Bunny things. As such, The Dude is able to get back to his life, though not before the nihilists show up demanding money even though there is no hostage situation. Walter easily fends them off, but Donny dies of a heart attack. We wrap up back at the bowling alley with The Stranger giving his condolences to The Dude about Donny.
There are a lot of threads in The Big Lebowski that go off in random directions and are never followed to any sort of conclusion. The biggest is their big bowling rival, the pedophile Jesus Quintana (John Turturro). Of course, I was not pleased that they decided to give this character the name of Christ. Then again, that is the least of the worries with this one. There is a lot of drug use, nudity, and profanity. None of it, as these things almost always are, is unnecessary. Still, at least we have The Stranger to admonish The Dude about his language. Early on in the synopsis, I described him as being God. I am not entirely comfortable with this designation, though I am not sure what else they were trying to accomplish with this character. Taking it at face value, this notion goes beyond knowing about events about which he should not know, or not approving of curse words. He also drinks sarsaparilla, which I find appropriate. There is also a non-judgmental, friendly air about him. To be sure, God will judge us all one day. At the same time, He is patient with our faults, just as The Stranger is with The Dude. The Stranger does not like everything he sees in The Dude, but it does not come out angrily. I wish more people would think of the real God in this way. God does not want us to sin, particularly not as The Dude does, but the pathway to salvation is always open for us as long as there is breath in our lungs. The problem with The Dude is that he takes such things for granted.
The Dude’s last line in The Big Lebowski is his most famous: The Dude abides. He says this to The Stranger before going back to bowling. It is actually God who abides with us, referring to the alternative meaning of the word which is to tolerate something. God tolerates us, but more than that, He loves us beyond our comprehension. The problem with this movie, aside from the other junk that turns off this Catholic reviewer, is that it is toleration with no purpose. The Dude, rather, is simply, pointlessly biding his time. It is for these reasons that I do not understand what people get out of this movie.