The Coen brothers’ cult favorite ‘The Big Lebowski’ turns 20 on March 6. Celebrate with these important life lessons from The Dude.
Jeff Lebowski is a man for his time and place — 1991, Los Angeles. But he doesn’t call himself by the handle his loving parents gave him. He calls himself The Dude, Duder, His Dudeness, or El Duderino, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing. But is The Dude a bumbling burnout or a Zen master? If you think he’s a mere stoner, well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.
I happen to think there’s a lot to be learned from The Dude’s approach to life, and I’m not the only one. New shit has come to light. For instance, did you know The Big Lebowski has its own religion called Dudeism, making it literally a cult film? And an annual Lebowski Fest attended by self-described Achievers (taken from the “Little Lebowski Urban Achievers” — and proud we are of all of them), who are the hipster equivalent of Trekkies as they dress in costume, drink White Russians, and bowl?
Just before O Brother, Where Art Thou? and just after Fargo, the Coen brothers released The Big Lebowski. Loosely inspired by Raymond Chandler novels, specifically The Big Sleep, which was adapted into a film in 1946 starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, The Big Lebowski tells the increasingly convoluted story of Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski, played by Jeff Bridges.
The Dude happens to have the same name as a local millionaire — The Big Lebowski — and, as a result of mistaken identity, The Dude is assaulted and his favorite rug micturated upon. In an effort to be compensated for his soiled rug, The Dude visits The Big Lebowski at his mansion, only to find himself embroiled in an elaborate plot involving kidnapping, nihilists, the porn industry, and The Big Lebowski’s daughter, an avant-garde feminist artist. Suffice it to say, there are lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what-have-yous — in short, a lot of strands in old Duder’s head.
Despite the far-fetched plot’s complexity, many of the film’s characters and sequences are taken from real life. The Dude is based on Jeff “The Dude” Dowd, who helped secure distribution deals for the Coen brothers’ first film, Blood Simple. And The Dude’s friend Walter, a pistol-packing Vietnam vet played perfectly by John Goodman, is an amalgam of several acquaintances of the Coen brothers. Even the subplot regarding The Dude’s stolen car is based on a true story.
If you’re interested in delving deeper into The Big Lebowski, I recommend checking out the book I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski by Bill Green, Ben Peskoe, Will Russell, and Scott Shuffitt. In this highly entertaining book, written in part by the Founding Dudes of Lebowski Fest, you’ll learn that in the film, the word “fuck” (and its variants) is said 281 times, the word “dude” (and its variants) is said 160 times, and the word “man” is said 174 times. You’ll also find an English-to-Achiever translation guide and a Dude Dictionary. Mark it!
The movie is hilariously insane, but it’s also seriously philosophical, which makes sense given that Ethan Coen has a degree in philosophy from Princeton. Several ideologies are explored: Judaism, Christianity, nihilism, pacifism, fascism, feminism, and existentialism (the film’s bizarre quasi-narrator, a cowboy played by Sam Elliot, is called The Stranger in a nod to the novel L’Étranger by Albert Camus, and a copy of Sartre’s Being and Nothingness can be seen on The Dude’s bedside table).
So despite The Big Lebowski being an absurd comedy, can we actually learn something about life from The Dude? Does the Pope shit in the woods?
Here are just a few of the many life lessons The Dude provides.
All The Dude ever wanted was his rug back, which was the catalyst for his involvement in the crazed plot of The Big Lebowski. So if you’re thinking about redecorating, consider picking up a nice rug like The Dude’s. It just might tie the room together. But here’s a word of advice: if thugs pee on your rug, don’t seek recompense from someone like The Big Lebowski.
2. Dress Casually
The Dude knows how to take ’er easy. If you ever feel your blood pressure rising, throw on a comfy old sweatshirt, a ratty pair of shorts and a nice pair of Jellies. Or just go straight for the bathrobe. And did you know that most of The Dude’s wardrobe came out of Jeff Bridges’ own closet, making him truly the best-suited actor to play The Dude? Fabulous stuff.
3. Sometimes You Just Have to Say ‘Fuck It’ and Go Bowling
Life is full of strikes and gutters, ups and downs. To get away from it all, The Dude frequents the bowling alley with his friends Walter and Donny. But despite all the time he spends at the lanes, The Dude is never actually seen bowling in the film. Hasn’t that ever occurred to you, man…sir?
4. Learn How to Mix a Helluva Caucasian
The Dude’s beverage of choice is the White Russian — or Caucasian, as he calls it. Recipes vary, but the International Bartenders Association recommends five parts vodka, two parts coffee liqueur, three parts cream. The Dude is a bit less specific with his measurements, and he also uses half-and-half instead of cream, but “Caucasians” help him keep his mind limber. Just make sure you never accept one from a shady character like porn magnate Jackie Treehorn.
5. Listen to Great Tunes
The Coen brothers are known for having great music in their movies (see the Grammy-winning O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack), and The Big Lebowski is no exception. The official soundtrack is good but only represents a fraction of the amazing music in the film — and it doesn’t even have any Creedence, clearly one of The Dude’s favorite bands.
Whether he’s talking about how he used to be a roadie for Metallica, expressing his hatred for the fuckin’ Eagles, listening to whale songs to relax, or having one of his acid flashbacks, music is a key part of The Dude’s world. And any movie that has not one but two montages set to “The Man in Me” by Bob Dylan is destined to be an all-time favorite.
Life can be pretty chaotic sometimes — especially if you’re The Dude. But he never lets it get to him. He goes with the flow, ultimately surviving all the crazy things that happen to him. And his catchphrase, “The Dude abides,” perfectly captures his relaxed approach to life. It’s the last line spoken by The Dude in The Big Lebowski.
Well, That About Does ’Er, Wraps ’Er All Up
At the end of the film, The Stranger explains why we love The Dude: “It’s good knowin’ he’s out there — The Dude — takin’ ’er easy for all us sinners.”
I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that.
Coming Soon to a Theater Near You!
The Coen brothers said they would never do a sequel to The Big Lebowski, but fans will want to keep an eye out later this year for Going Places, a Lebowski spinoff written and directed by John Turturro, who reprises his role as pederast bowler Jesus Quintana. Nobody fucks with the Jesus!