By Mike Richardson
The Big Lebowski is a love it or hate it film, and sitting in a park watching a pop-up screening won’t win over anyone who ‘doesn’t get it’, but it will send the film’s myriad fans (and those followers of Dudeism at http://www.dudeism.com) home suitably chilled and sated.
The Coen brothers’ seventh film, sandwiched between the award heavy Fargo (1996) and the George Clooney headed O Brother Where Art Thou (2000), was a flop at the box office and received mixed reviews at the time of its release, but then became a stone cold cult classic in the years following. The film is set in the early 90s Californian underworld and is often compared to the noirs of Raymond Chandler. It concerns itself with possibly the most laid back (laziest) man on the planet; Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski. The Dude’s quiet life of bowling, smoking, drinking and sleeping is rudely interrupted when two heavies break into his apartment, inform him that his wife owes their boss money and he’s going to pay it, they then leave (after peeing on his rug). However the Dude has no wife, and the break in, assault and rug peeing is a case of mistaken identity. The in-debt wife in question is married to a different Jeffrey Lebowski, the “Big” Lebowski of the title. This Lebowski is a wheelchair bound self-made millionaire, who does have a young (trophy) wife who it seems does owe money all around town.
In a normal film there would follow some fish out of water or mistaken identity japes and slapstick, but this is a Coen brothers film so instead we get a parade of brilliantly twisted, grotesque and bizarre characters, starting with Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) a Vietnam vet and bowling buddy, who persuades the Dude to demand recompense for his urine soiled rug from the intended target, the Big Lebowski.
Things unfold at a hectic and chaotic pace, as the Dude attempts to have the quietest life possible as everything around him spirals out of control. The Big Lebowski receives a ransom note for his wife (now missing) and the Dude is required to make the money drop; he goes bowling, the ransom money is stolen, the Big Lebowski’s daughter (from a previous marriage) turns up, nihilists try to extort money from the Dude using a marmot, there’s some more bowling, a severed toe arrives (allegedly belonging to the kidnapped wife), a rug is stolen and re-stolen, an ineffective Private Eye is caught following the Dude, a charismatic and enigmatic cowboy narrator discusses life with the Dude, and it’s left to the Dude to make sense of it all.
The film isn’t really the sum of its plot threads, as is so often the way with the Coens it’s more a case of a dazzling, rambling incident of a film. It clearly a comedy but there’s no real ‘jokes’; there’s lots going on but very little actually happens and by the time the credits roll you’re either smiling or scowling, but always scratching your head.
The Big Lebowski is one of those films, like Withnail and I (1987) that is adored by its fans yet leaves the non-believers cold and dissatisfied. However as it is with cult films, it’s great to enjoy in the company of like-minded individuals. The Pop Up Screens’ open air screening in Ravenscourt Park, Hammersmith was a great experience. The evening was warm, the refreshments free flowing (and cheap by London prices), fresh popcorn and exotic burgers were available and the crowd was made up of people that ‘got’ the film. There were subdued cheers at favourite lines, a warm sense of joy at favourite scenes and some people had even made the (very un-Dude) effort of dressing up as their favourite characters.
You’ll know if you like the film or not, and if you do you’ll love watching the Dude abide in the open air.
For more info on Pop Up Screens, check out their website at http://www.popupscreens.co.uk