Sunday, 24 February 2013

The Big Lebowski (1998)

Have I mentioned that I'm on Twitter? Yes, I am. My handle's @crunro, if you're interested. One of the handiest services I follow on there is Top Film Tip, an account that notifies followers of any films, good or bad, that will be shown on British TV that day, and when. It was from this account that I learnt that The Big Lebowski, the Coen Brothers' surreal comedy from 1998, would be shown on ITV4 at nine o'clock that night. I spent a good few minutes deciding whether to catch it or The Last Leg on Channel Four before coming to my senses and remembering what I'd be missing.

And so I turned off my laptop and settled down to watch the film in peace. The Sons of the Pioneers' Tumbling Tumbleweeds begins the film, as a tumbleweed drifts across California before settling in the Pacific Ocean, and Sam Elliot's Stranger starts his sultry and deep narration of the film. The Dude appears, smelling milk for his White Russian in a supermarket, in his dressing gown. He is quite possibly the laziest man in Los Angeles County, which would place him high in the running for laziest worldwide. What follows is an incredibly unpredictable, quirky and imaginative tale that is wonderfully odd and wonderfully Coen. In a remarkable case of mistaken identity, thugs break into The Dude's home, dunk his face in his own milk-soaked toilet bowl and befoul his rug, asking for money belonging to his namesake, big businessman Jeffrey Lebowski, and throwing him into a world of trouble and violence he would never approve of.

Every last character in The Big Lebowski has some idiosyncratic streak to them. As the story gets wider and wider and The Dude finds himself confronting stranger and stranger characters, from a feminist painter who works in the scud to German electronic music pioneers turned violent, ferret-wielding gangsters, the film just gets relentlessly engaging, an effect that lasts for a good while after the film has ended. This is why it has acquired a cult status that many directors only see in their dreams. At times, it is a difficult plot to follow, but how little that matters compared to the creativity and shadowy sense of humour it revels in. The Dude himself is one of my favourite characters in all of the cinema I've seen. He has achieved what most yearn for. He is unemployed, lazy, and he spends his time getting drunk on White Russians and competing in ten-pin bowling championships. He didn't ask for any of this trouble. He's a pacifist, and just wants the whole complicated story finished so he can return to getting drunk and bowling. He's just so damn cool. You know it from the moment he walks into a meeting with The Big Jeffrey Lebowski, capitalism himself, in sunglasses and shorts. He can pull off a cardigan so well that it's become an icon of easy living rather than a symbol of the elderly.

The soundtrack has rarely been bettered, too. It's something I don't usually pick up on when I'm watching a film, but I do remember Robert Zemeckis' Flight, despite being quite an enjoyable film overall, failed quite badly soundtrack-wise. It was strewn with cliches I didn't even realise were cliches, like Under The Bridge accompanying a drugs scene and Bill Withers' Ain't No Sunshine running under a scene in which the main character pours all his alcohol down the sink. The Big Lebowski is quite the opposite, using its songs to brilliant effect. The Gipsy Kings' superb cover of Hotel California makes an appearance, as does Kenny Roger's I Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In), which plays during one of the film's dream sequences. It is these dream sequences that really make the film for me. I've never witnessed a more spectacular or accurate depiction of what happens inside your head. The Dude flies, wide eyed, over Los Angeles on his lovely rug and through the legs of bowling pin-headed showgirls, with trippy images vaguely connected to his worldly obsessions. They are a few minutes of cinematic wonder.

It is this spectacular weirdness that makes this one of my favourite comedies and one of my favourite films. Nothing is expected, with the film spiralling through kidnap, conspiracy, death both deliberate and accidental, sex and contemporary dance. This is story writing at its most inspired.

Follow me on Twitter: @crunro

No comments:

Post a Comment