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'The Big Lebowski': When Dudes Abide
By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires Film Critic
03:37PM / Thursday, July 09, 2020
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I wish that I were reviewing one of the half-dozen movies certain to be made when this pox upon our house is no more. But until that glorious return to normality has us resuming all the simple joys of life we take for granted, like going to the movies, I'll be retro-reviewing and thereby sharing with you the films that I've come to treasure over the years, most of which can probably be retrieved from one of the movie streaming services. It is my fondest hope that I've barely put a dent into this trove when they let the likes of me back into the Bijou.

Maude: "What do you do for recreation?"
The Dude: "Oh, the usual. I bowl. Drive around. The occasional acid flashback."
While the bulk of us are out here trying to make a buck, scrounging about as podiatrists, chimney sweeps and film critics in order to put food on the table, set aside for Paisley's braces and in general pay The Man, we might take momentary relief in what I call our vicarious fools.
Jeffrey Lebowski, hilariously realized by Jeff Bridges in "The Big Lebowski" (1998), follows the proud tradition of such characters whose very existence thumbs a nose at the rat race for us.
Oh, Abbott and Costello, doubtlessly Hall of Fame vicarious fools, surely make a big show of trying to be contributing members of the economy, as almost each of their adventures centers around trying to find gainful employment. But they aren't really serious. Whether through happy-go-lucky ineptitude or the charm of fate, these people fill out no W-2s. "Seinfeld's" Kramer would certainly flummox the Census taker trying to ascertain how the quixotic doofus earns his daily bread. And, were it a category in "Jeopardy," with the answer being "nothing," the question would be, "What do Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy do for a living?"
Yet, in one of farce's more beneficent gifts, people of Jeffrey Lebowski's ilk do not wait endless hours in food lines, die because the government won't afford them a universal health plan and, if they are evicted, no worries: The vicarious fool will retain his domicile either through a twist of fate or, just as one uses the aggressor's strength against him in the martial arts, by playing to the landlord's greed.
It's what they do, or don't, actually. But being an idler is no idle pursuit. Their hapless good intentions make us laugh. Whereas in real life, the slough off at your place of employment is a derelict who expends more energy avoiding labor than it would take to just do the job. Yet oddly, there is among some of these laggards a shameful pride taken in not doing an honest day's work for an honest day's pay.
I knew such a man who, in the months just before his retirement, held court on the fires escape during overlong cigarette breaks, regaling us younger employees of all the tricks of his charade … informing how he came and went like a ghost, doing virtually no work for 30 years.
This is despicable, antisocial, and akin to not wearing a mask or following all the other safeguards against the pandemic, essentially leaving the rest of us to do the heavy lifting. But the distinction is that in The Dude's fictional world, he leaves no such immoral footprint.
Inherently good like Chaplin's Little Tramp, he represents us in humankind's eternal battle against our shortcomings and quandaries. A hero of comic misadventure, the human embodiment of civil disobedience, he earns total dispensation. Thus, we cheer on the unemployed Jeffrey Lebowski as he throws himself body and soul not into the so-called dignity of labor, but into seeking restitution for a favored rug ruined by thugs in a retributive case of mistaken identity.
Oh, what a tangled web.
But more important than that, which you'll come to embrace as you join the loony fold occupied by Jeffrey and his two bowling pals, John Goodman's militarily-obsessed Walter Sobchak and Steve Buscemi's out-to-lunch simpleton, is that he is The Dude, and that "The Dude abides."
While explaining exactly what that means without game show lifelines to Dr. Timothy Leary, Albert Einstein and Jimmy Durante would be arduous, odds are the amenably inclined viewer will by film's end dig the jive, albeit at a total loss to put it in words. Beware those know-it-alls who are all too quick to explain, "It's a trope man ... like a meme, man."
So, if you find yourself loving The Dude's "Alice in Wonderland"-like delve into the screwy world of cutthroats, phonies, swindlers, nihilists and posturers who lend to stereotype and facilitate the satire of institutions, "The Dude Abides" will insinuate into your parlance. Add it to your revived use of "grok" and "We'll always have Paris" and you'll be, er, good to go.
The story, essentially quite simple as The Dude and his retinue prepare for the big bowling tourney, becomes wonderfully, unnecessarily complicated in the best comic tradition, but with its own edgy twist a la the auteurism of the ingenious Brothers Coen. One outlandish turn of events follows the next, blasphemously punctuated by Walter's four-lettered outrage in a hyperkinetic characterization wrongfully shortchanged an Oscar.
Melded into the scenario by a runaway centrifuge spinning out multiple insanities, is a random unearthing of chicanery and Julianne Moore's sexy portrayal of the mysterious Maude, puppeteer of psyches and paradoxical straight woman to the Dude's serendipity-laced sleuthing.
All of which joyfully answers a curiosity that veterans of the 1960s may have pondered in the years since they doffed their tie-dyed bellbottoms and joined the madding crowd. The question being: What ever happened to that total freak, y'know that guy who you figured wouldn't sell out for any hedge fund bull**** and hopefully, unlike the sadly fated, altruistic Alex whose funeral prompts "The Big Chill" (1983), found his Pepperland? What was the dude's name again … Lebowski?
"The Big Lebowski," rated R, is a Gramercy Pictures release directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman and Julianne Moore. Running time: 117 minutes
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