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Ten years ago, the latest Coen Brothers flick tanked at the box office.

THEN, IN THE YEARS that followed, something funny happened: that same movie became, in the words of Rolling Stone, “the most worshipped comedy of its generation.”

That flick was called ‘The Big Lebowski’ – and on its tenth anniversary, I’m pleased to announce that I finally know why I, and many other theater-goers, just didn’t quite get it when the Dude first walked onto our screens.

So why the dramatic shift in popularity?

Like so many geniuses, the Dude was simply ahead of his time.

According to Rolling Stone’s Andy Greene, the Dude represents everything that we long for in the post-Y2K world.

Sure, those yearnings existed in 1998, but before 9/11, Blackberries, and reality TV, they weren’t quite so powerful or finely honed.

Greene writes:

Early in Lebowski, the narrator (a cowboy named the Stranger, played by Sam Elliott) intones, “Sometimes there’s a man, who, well, he’s the man for his time ‘n place.” The odd truth is this man — the Dude — may have been a decade ahead of his time.

Today, as technology increasingly handcuffs us to schedules and appointments — in the time it takes you to read this, you’ve missed three e-mails — there’s something comforting about a fortysomething character who will blow an evening lying in the bathtub, getting high and listening to an audiotape of whale songs.

He’s not a 21st-century man… The Dude doesn’t care about a job, a salary, a 401(k), and definitely not an iPhone. The Dude just is, and he’s happy.

Slate’s David Hagland agrees that ‘Lebowski’ was ahead of its time, but sees the movie’s relevance today in even more specific terms. The Coen Brothers, he argues, accurately and eerily created the sort of character who would later dominate American politics:

The Dude is indeed a fantastic character. Ten years on, though, the movie’s most striking role belongs to John Goodman as Walter Sobchak: a hawkish, slightly unhinged Vietnam vet and the Dude’s best friend and bowling partner.

Watching The Big Lebowski in 2008, it becomes clear that appreciating Walter is essential to understanding what the Coen brothers are up to in this movie, which is slyer, more political, and more prescient than many of its fans have recognized. Perhaps that’s because Walter, with his bellowing, Old Testament righteousness and his deeply entrenched militarism, is an American type that barely registered on the pop-culture landscape 10 years ago.

He’s a neocon.

Grab a White Russian and click those links – both essays are well worth reading in full.

Oh, and of course you’ll need background music! Wired provides the ultimate 21-track salute to ‘The Big Lebowski’.

Happy birthday, Jeffrey Lebowski.

Even back in 1998, you knew us better than we know ourselves.

Pop Culture

 

About The Author

Eva Holland

Eva Holland is a freelance writer, Senior Editor of World Hum and a longtime contributor to the Matador community. She lives in Canada’s Yukon Territory and blogs about Alaska and Yukon travel at Travelers North.

  • ianmack

    Awesome writeup Eva! They have a Lebowski fest at UBC coming up in November. I think I'll attend…

  • Eva

    Thanks Ian! You'll have to report back on Lebowski Fest…

  • Melanie Waldman

    Thanks for drawing attention to these articles! Big Lebowski was on TV yesterday, and even though this made three viewings, I chuckled through it yet again. It can't possibly be a coincidence that Mr. Lebowski, the millionaire, looks so much like Cheney…can it? After my favorite (Jesus the Pederast Bowler) scene I said to my husband, "Hey, doesn't John Goodman's character strike you as the ultimate McCain voter?" No answer came my way, though…as my love was busy texting a client via iPhone, on a Sunday, Gotta say, I do get the whole "abiding" thing more clearly now, all these years later.

  • Eva

    Thanks, Melanie! Glad to hear I'm not the only one suddenly seeing the Dude and Co. more clearly these days… The thing about your husband on the iPhone made me laugh out loud!

  • Tim Patterson

    God I love the Big Lebowski. Showed my parents the movie the other day and they didn't appreciate it at all.

  • Becky

    keen observation. i bought some kahlua today just thinking about big lebowski.

  • Turner

    "Do you see what happens, Larry??"

  • Chet

    Shut the f$&% up Donnie… when do we play?

  • J Gray

    I can remember the first time I saw the Big Lebowski…I was like WTF is this? But each time I watched it afterwards I felt a stronger understanding of each of the characters – finally getting each clever quip or joke.

    For me, the beauty of this movie is certainly not just the Dude, it’s each and every character…it’s how incredibly well the Cohen bros portrayed theoretical characters from our real lives that we all feel we’ve seen or heard about at one stage or another, and orchestrated it all to a story line that just barely seems to make sense. But it’s a story line that importantly allows each character to show his/her true colors.

    For people who love spending a day sitting in a cafe on a busy street or plaza people watching, you know the same people who would love to take a walk in a completely different type of neighborhood on the other side of town for nothing more than the enjoyment of analyzing the people, their local freaks, and local culture – this is your masterpiece.

    “If you will it, it is no dream.”

    If you are a huge fan, there is a great book written by some Lebowski fanatics, in which they interview each of the actors from the movie. John Goodman straight up says this was the role of his life. The book is titled “I”m a Lebowski, you’re a Lebowski. Life, The Big Lebowski and what have you.”

    Last comment, I sincerely think there should be a new award at the Oscars. One for the best cameo. John Turturro absolutely deserves it for ‘Jesus.’

    - and btw more recently, Tom Cruise def deserves it for his role in Tropic Thunder.

    “All the dude ever wanted, was his rug back.”

    • Osama Zaghloul

      ohhh, I am now wondering, did these “Cohens” choose to name the pedophile Jesus? Was that a shot towards Christianity or something?

  • http://liveuncomfortably.com Derek

    I think it’s funny that my Dad worships this movie. He literally quotes it back and forth with his work friends and they bust up.

    It’s like watching my generation quote Dave Chappelle skits.

    Great movie, great article.

    I wonder what would happen if everyone had the balls not to care about anything…

    • I_b_bicman

      We do. fuck it man.

  • Lance

    The shock radio DJ character played by Jeff Bridges in the Fisher King strikes me as a younger version of the Dude, before he fully embraced the abiding ways…

  • Dayton Young

    I’m a news anchor for a major TV station in a major market. My producer, a senior writer and me can break tension at any moment in our busy newsroom with a pithy application of a Dude-ism. It has gotten to the point that others pause in their work to hear lines from the movie quoted back — as yet another Lebowski discussion takes flight. This has led to greater appreciation of this film among our colleagues — even those irritated by our habits. The Big Lebowski is truly a remarkable film. And I know I still don’t get it completely.

  • David Page

    Nice post, Eva! And indeed, The Dude’s influence is still spreading… For an account of the traveling circus that is the annual Lebowski Fest (now in it’s ninth year and probably coming to a city/bowling alley near you!), check out these Notes from a LebowskiFest Past.

  • Andres

    When I first saw this film I thought it was the best way back then. I’ve always been a Coen brothers fan – I never understood how people didn’t enjoy this film.

  • Giacomo Vincenzo

    Eva, you have opened my eyes. EH abides!

  • West

    People here claiming that Walter is a neocon is REACHING.. Reaching far. I like the one woman’s comment that Walter is the ultimate McCain voter. No… McCain is not even a conservative. The utter lack of understanding here and blatantly rushed labeling is pathetic and insults not only the fictional characters in the movie, but your political ignorance. It’s hard for Obama voters to think past labels, I know, but you can do it if you try hard enough.

    • Osama Zaghloul

      sigh, so CNN blocked your IP teabagger? Blame Obama in 3.2.1…

  • Osama Zaghloul

    I was very confused until the last scene in the movie when I realized the cowboy is his guardian angel… very good movie! I will def. need to watch it again to get the whole message… but it seems pretty simple… enjoy life (the good and the bad), take it easy, and things will be ok…

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