Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Big Lebowski (1998)

     Back in May, I wrote an article about “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, a comedy written and directed by filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen. At that point, the only other movies that they had made that I had seen were “No Country for Old Men” and “True Grit”. Well, last weekend, I saw “The Big Lebowski” for the first time. …Weirdest Coen brothers’ movie I’ve ever seen. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, watch out. This is actually a pretty vulgar movie. (I wish I had realized that before I watched it.) But thanks to Sam Elliott, I’m starting to put together something that I can still take from “The Big Lebowski”.

     Who’s Sam Elliott? Well, he’s an actor known for a lot of Western television and movie work who acts as the narrator of this movie, known in the credits as The Stranger. He starts to tell the story of a man named Jeffrey Lebowski (Jeff Bridges, who played Rooster Cogburn in the Coen brothers’ “True Grit”), known commonly as simply “the Dude”. The Stranger sets up the story in Los Angeles in the early 1990’s.

STRANGER: I only mention it because sometimes there's a man... I won't say a hero. 'Cause, what's a hero? But sometimes, there's a man. And I'm talkin' about the Dude here. Sometimes, there's a man… well, he's the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that's the Dude, in Los Angeles. And even if he's a lazy man. And the Dude was most certainly that—quite possibly the laziest in Los Angeles County, which would place him high in the runnin' for laziest worldwide. But sometimes there's a man… sometimes, there's a man.

     Remember that if you can. Anyway, after the Dude is introduced, we see him go home to his little house in Los Angeles where he is immediately attacked by two thugs demanding money from his wife to go to a man named Jackie Treehorn. Dude, the bum that he is, has no clue what this is about. The thugs urinate on his rug, but then they realize they are looking for the wrong guy, and they leave. But when he figures out with his friends Walter (John Goodman, the KKK leader in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”) and Donny (Steve Buscemi, “Fargo”) that the thugs were actually looking for “the Big Lebowski”, a local millionaire actually named Jeffrey Lebowski (David Huddleston), Dude tries to get Lebowski to get him a new rug. He refuses, but on his way out of his mansion, Dude takes a rug anyway. On his way out, he runs into Lebowski’s very young and very promiscuous wife known as Bunny (Tara Reid). And Dude assumes his part in the story is over.

     Nnnope. And I’m going to do my best to summarize the rest of this movie, because it can get kinda complicated. Dude is called by Lebowski to arrange a ransom for Bunny, who has been kidnapped. That way, Dude can identify the kidnappers as the men who urinated on his rug. Later, Dude is robbed again by more thugs, who knock him out and steal his new rug. When Bunny’s kidnappers call Dude to arrange a ransom, Walter goes with him to a bridge where they fake out the kidnappers by throwing them a suitcase of Walter’s laundry instead of the briefcase of a million dollars that Lebowski gave Dude. Later, Dude’s car is stolen, but then he receives a call from Lebowski’s daughter Maude (Julianne Moore), who reveals Bunny was a… um, video star, who owed money to mogul Jackie Treehorn. Dude starts to suspect that she kidnapped herself to escape the debt.

     Then, Dude’s car is recovered, threatened again by thugs who Maude later tells him were friends of Bunny. Dude and Walter find the man who stole his car—a preteen boy—who turns out to be a complete red herring. Later, thugs raid Dude’s house again and bring him to the beach house of Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara), who drugs Dude, forcing him to enter a really weird (and, as far as I’m concerned, really pointless) dream sequence. Dude wakes to find himself in the abusive care of the Malibu police, who tell him to leave and never come back. Dude goes back home to find Maude there, waiting to him to… be with her. Yeah.

     But after that, Dude finally puts the pieces together and figures out: Lebowski used Bunny’s kidnapping to get money from his family charity to keep for himself, hiding it and pretending it was in the suitcase that he gave to Dude, who he hoped would be accused of stealing the money. However, later he finds out that the kidnapping itself was fake: Bunny simply went away for a while, and her friends made up a kidnapping so that they could get Lebowski’s money. So with that resolution, Dude, Walter, and Donny go bowling, leaving to find Dude’s car set on fire by the thugs. They beat the thugs, Donny dies of a heart attack, his ashes are scattered into the Pacific Ocean until the wind blows them onto Dude’s face, and they find Sam Elliott again in the bowling alley, who closes the film with a little monologue.

     WHAT?!?!?! Yeah, I know when I put it as simply as that, this story seems even more ludicrous than it actually is. And it is, believe me. But here’s where I want to attempt to make a connection to my faith through this… weird movie. At the end of the movie, as Dude and the Stranger end their conversation, the Stranger tells the Dude to take it easy: “I know that you will.” The Dude responds: “Yeah, well, the Dude abides.”

STRANGER: “The Dude abides.” I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowing he’s out there, the Dude. Takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners.

     I’m not entirely sure what all that means yet, but you know, when you think about the Dude’s situation, you just have to laugh. How did a mistaken identity and urinating on a rug ever start the journey that the Dude and his friends went on in this movie? That’s usually not a bad thing in a movie, when a character is forced onto his journey and thus makes a change. But through it all, the Dude still had that laid-back attitude that made him who he was. He certainly wasn’t an example I’d follow anytime soon, but he dealt with what was in front of him, one way or another.

     Thinking about it that way, and thinking about the Stranger’s opening monologue, saying there’s a time and a place for every man, “The Big Lebowski” seems to mean a little more. As a Christian, God has made a time and a place for me to do his work, whether that’s at school, in the neighborhood, or whatever career I end up at. I’ve cited Ephesians 2 on this blog before with other movies, but verse 10 is a verse I often remember: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” There’s a time and a place for me, just as there was for the Dude, and wherever God puts me, I must remain in him: or, as the King James Version of the Bible says in John 15, “abide in him”.

     My prayer for you today is that you will accept the situations that God gives you—and not only that, but that you would strive to make the most of them.

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