By Jonathan Lawrence
CALGARY — Pour yourself a White Russian, don your favourite bathrobe, and kick back and relax – the Lebowski is back in a big, bad way at the Plaza Theatre for the fourth annual showing of the beloved cult film, courtesy of The Fifth Reel, and we can abide by that – unless it falls on the Shabbos.
The Big Lebowski is a complex tale; it’s hard to describe if you’re into the whole brevity thing. A rugged-voiced Southern narrator opens the story by introducing Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), a long-haired slacker with a penchant for bowling and coffee liqueur, while ruminating on the big question of the film: what’s a hero? The Dude, dressed in a bathrobe and wandering a Ralph’s supermarket alongside the rambling narration, looks like anything but.
Things take a turn for the worse when the Dude, a man who writers Ethan and Joel Coen regarded as the least qualified for this type of work, becomes the victim of mistaken identity and is then unwittingly entwined in a Chandler-esque mystery thick with intrigue, double-crossers, nihilists and kidnapping. With an original premise and colourful, sharp language, the Coen Brothers created a world that is as fascinating as it is hilarious.
The Dude and his best friend Walter Sobchak (John Goodman), a converted yet devout Jew, run into a host of adversaries throughout the film. One of them is a gang of nihilists who stand in contrast to the Dude, yet highlight one of the film’s major themes – the line between absolute nihilism and Zen-like laziness can be blurred. Where does believing in nothing end and being perpetually unfazed by life begin?
That said, the Dude knows where he stands (and so do we) – but the challenges he and Walter face will ultimately put his Dude-ness to the test, perhaps more so by the short-fused, Vietnam-obsessed Walter than anyone else. “Calmer than you are,” Walter insists after the Dude, going against his better nature, harangues him for pointing a handgun at a fellow bowler for stepping over the line, threatening a “world of pain.”
Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade they are not, and likewise suitably unequipped for the job. The Dude and Walter may not save the day, nor rescue the kidnapped woman they were supposed to recover, but, in the end, it’s alright: the Dude becomes enlightened through his adventures, and his Dude-ness becomes stronger than ever. He inadvertently becomes the hero that our narrator so unclearly hinted at in the beginning.
Midway through the film, El Duderino learns from a charismatic stranger (also the narrator) that “sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you.” “Is that an Eastern thing?” he quips to the thick-moustachioed drawling Texan. By the end of the film, the two reunite and the Dude, who now understands the message, admits that life is full of “strikes and gutters,” reinforcing the main theme of the movie: sometimes you get the rug pulled out from under you, and that’s just the way it is – even when it ties the room together.
Fans of the The Big Lebowski know full well what they’re in for, but newcomers may need to see the film more than once to truly appreciate it. This is arguably the most revered cult movie of all time, and for good reason. It breaks the rules of language, storytelling and character (some would argue taste, but the Coen Brothers have never been strong on taste, and that’s why we love ‘em).
The Dude’s impact on filmgoers is still undeniably strong 17 years later. Everybody wishes they were as relaxed as the Dude. He’s become cemented as a classic film character and is endlessly enjoyable to watch (and quote).
Book your tickets early, the last two showings have been completely sold out. The Big Lebowski, White Russians at the bar, a theatre full of diehard fans, a special performance by Flowshine – this is not an event to miss. But hey, that’s just like, my opinion, man.
See The Big Lebowski at the Plaza Theatre in Kensington in Calgary on January 15 at 10 p.m. courtesy of the Fifth Reel. Calgary act Flowshine will perform before the screening. The event is 18+. For tickets, visit fifthreel.caAB, Alberta, Plaza Theatre, The Big Lebowski, The Fifth Reel