Viking Night: The Big Lebowski
By Bruce Hall
March 8, 2011
Most consumers have no problem loving a huge budget blockbuster. Movies that are meant to appeal to the widest possible audience usually do just that. But some films have a narrower vision, or simply contain more complex meaning than meets the eye. They aren't always art, and they aren't always even very successful. But for a devoted and eccentric few, they're the best entertainment money can buy. Once, beginning with Erik the Viking, a group of dedicated irregulars gathered weekly in a dingy dorm room to watch these films and discuss how what pleases the few might also appeal to the many. Time has separated the others in those discussions so that I alone remain to ponder the wider significance of cult cinema. But while the room is cleaner and I no longer have to skip class to do it, I still think of my far off friends whenever I hold Viking Night.
2010 was a good time to be Jeff Bridges. He started the year off with an Academy Award and ended it by reprising his role as Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski in Tron: Legacy. Well, he wasn’t really playing The Dude, but it sure felt that way. Or maybe despite his distinguished body of work one actor has become so closely associated with one character by his fans that every time they see Jeff Bridges, they see The Dude. Maybe it’s the way Bridges tends to morph into the characters he plays, you can’t tell where one begins and the other ends. The Dude was not in either Tron movie but Jeff Bridges was, and he’s every bit as interesting and eccentric as the character he made famous.
But The Dude is more than just a character – he’s the most unlikely of heroes from what is among the most revered of all cult movies. It’s a story filled with well regarded actors and memorable lines, cursed with a record of box office failure and worshipped by a narrow cross section of people as devoted as any Trekkie or Twihard. Add to that the involvement of movie geek icons Joel and Ethan Coen, and you get The Big Lebowski. It’s a movie so quirky-but-somehow-entertaining it’s almost guaranteed to please only the strangest people you know. It’s one of those flicks you’ve heard people gush about but the first time you see it, the appeal will probably go right over your head. So who is The Dude, and why will his name be on Jeff Bridges’ tombstone? Read on my friend, and abide in what follows.
When you think about The Big Lebowski, think about a noir detective thriller mixed with a zany Three’s Company mistaken identity subplot. If that’s not clear enough, think about an unemployed stoner, a traumatized war veteran with anger issues, and Steve Buscemi playing Mister Pink with 12 concussions. These are your heroes. Then there is the Big Lebowski himself (David Huddleston), an eccentric millionaire who happens to share the same legal name as The Dude (Jeff Bridges). There’s Lebowski’s wife Bunny (Tara Reid. Yes. Tara Reid). She is a nymphomaniac porn starlet four decades her husband’s junior who hangs around with a group of German nihilists pulled right out of a Saturday Night Live sketch.