Fargo was a hit for Joel and Ethan Coen when it was released in 1996. The loveable characters, the goofy accents, the grisly woodchipper scene — reviewers and audiences alike ate it up. But two years later, when the pair released The Big Lebowski, the response was a collective “Huh?”
The film follows a burned-out, bowling-obsessed L.A. slacker as he’s sucked into a chain of mistaken identity, kidnap, ransom and possible dismemberment. Sounds sexy, but nothing ever really happens in the film, which is replete with non sequiturs, obscure pop-cultural references, loosely drawn characters, nonsensical dialogue, unidentifiable accents and a gross superfluity of four-letter words. Audiences are excused for having been perplexed.
But in 10 years, Lebowski has spawned a fan club and a massive yearly festival. It has single-handedly re-ignited a barroom love for the White Russian. And while it may not have been clear in 1998, its success is no surprise now. The comedic performances are sublimely subtle (especially from Jeff Bridges as “The Dude” and John Goodman as Walter Sobchak). The dream sequences are dizzying and riotous, and the collection of quotable quips is unparalleled in modern comedy history.
Of course, in true Dude fashion, the 10th-anniversary DVD does a pretty half-assed job celebrating its own legacy. Sure, the packaging itself is grandiose — in the shape and size of a duckpin bowling ball — but the featurettes on the dream sequences, the film’s making, a “ten years later” piece and an investigation of the Dude’s rambling pseudo-Zen philosophy all bleed into together and fail to really explain the movie’s strange appeal. In one feature, Jeff Bridges just sits in front of a mirror and shows you pictures he took on the set. Dude…
The best testament to the film’s enduring power comes in an excerpt of a separate documentary made about Lebowski Fest, in which a lispy bit actor who played a one-second part as Saddam Hussein in a dream sequence, recalls arriving at the festival. “It was the only place I’d ever gone where I felt like a rock star,” he says.
But as Theodor Herzl would say, “If you will it, Dude, it is no dream.”