Film

Heresy!

Every week, Vue invites its film writers to champion a film that everyone else dismisses as trash, or to slam a film that every

As I see it, this sacred cow is ready for the killing floor. I will apologize
in advance, since I realize how many coolsters out there worship this movie
and its impotent worldview. Metro Cinema, for instance, brought Lebowski back
for a brief run last summer, helping to confirm its cult status, which has
grown like mold since it was released in 1998. In fact, the film’s
appeal now extends even beyond the silver screen. According to this
month’s Spin, a series of “Lebowski Fests” now occur in
places like Louisville and Las Vegas. The devotees gather to bowl, drink
White Russians and blurt out their favourite lines (“The Dude
abides,” etc.) during yet another screening. It’s the kind of
fanboy gushing that once prompted William Shatner to urge fans of a certain
TV show to “get a life.” So what’s the big deal? Search me.
The Big Lebowski is an intentionally lethargic shaggy-dog affair, polluted
with predictable scenes and stillborn jokes—a kind of literal Big
Sleep, if you’ll excuse the allusion to the meandering Raymond
Chandler-esque noir which is its most notable influence. The private dick
here is the Dude (Jeff Bridges), an unemployed ’60s burnout who comes
up against a kidnapping plot, embezzlement, nihilists, porn stars and
(inevitably) “the occasional acid flashback.” Only there’s
not much to make the oddball scenes and character vignettes congeal.
They’re all crammed in like a hastily packed suitcase, lacking any
message other than “Well, hey, that’s L.A. for you, man!”
Compared to Raising Arizona, the Coen brothers’ screwball vision of the
American Southwest, this is a roach with mostly tobacco. I trace my own spite
to the Tarantino influence. The stylized, rambling
dialogue—“fucking this, fuck that”—seems very dated
these days, as do the jagged transitions and splashes of desensitized
violence. When the Dude’s best friend, Vietnam vet Walter Sobchak (John
Goodman), pulls a gun in a bowling alley or bites off the ear of an
aggressive nihilist, I can’t help but yawn or reach for the bong.
Sadly, no dose of intoxicants can overcome the Tryptophan Effect of lazy,
needlessly overfamiliar storytelling that ultimately goes nowhere. Well, not
quite nowhere. A cowpoke named the Stranger (Sam Elliott) bookends the film
with some ridiculous voice-over. Like a librarian reading to schoolchildren,
he recaps at the end in case we’ve missed the point: “Things seem
to have worked out pretty well for the Dude and Walter. And it was a pretty
good story, dontcha think?” My Lord, does a film this directionless
need an exegesis? That’s like having a Talmudic scholar interpret a
Howard Stern rant. Still, there’s no disputing that audiences are more
tolerant of this sort of postmodern meta-tripe, exemplified by arch-cheater
Charlie Kaufman, than they were back in the day. But I suppose the irony of
The Big Lebowski, and arguably the true source of my displeasure, is that the
Dude does abide. This film was set in the early ’90s, during the first
stages of Bush Sr.’s Gulf War. The Dude didn’t care then and a
lot of us don’t care now. An apathethic bag of shit, like resin in the
pipe from years ago, somehow remains. V

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