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Dennis Perkins

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives on the West End with his lovely wife Emily, where they watch all the movies ever made. When not digging up stories about the Maine film scene, he can be found writing for the AV Club and elsewhere. The rest of the time, he's worrying about the Red Sox.

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Posted: January 5, 2017

Understanding the appeal of ‘The Big Lebowski’

Written by: Dennis Perkins
Jeffrey Lebowski aka The Dude (Jeff Bridges) and Walter (John Goodman) in “The Big Lebowski.” Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

Jeffrey Lebowski aka The Dude (Jeff Bridges) and Walter (John Goodman) in “The Big Lebowski.”
Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

Confession time: When I first saw “The Big Lebowski” back when it came out in 1998, I didn’t like it.

Or, it’s not that I didn’t like it as much as I felt it was an aimless trifle, an at-that-point unprecedented misfire from formidable writer-director duo, brothers Joel and Ethan Coen. (Their resume before “Lebowski” included “Blood Simple,” “Raising Arizona,” “Miller’s Crossing,” “Barton Fink” and “Fargo” and, after, “No Country For Old Men,” “A Serious Man,” “True Grit,” “Inside Llewyn Davis.”)

I laughed, certainly. In fact, I laughed a lot, as Jeff Bridges’ slobby stoner/amateur bowler Jeffrey Lebowski (aka “The Dude”) shambled through an improbable kidnapping case with the dubious help of hair-trigger-violent, blustery pal, Walter (John Goodman), and blessedly clueless other pal, Donny (Steve Buscemi), and dodged cops, hired goons, his landlord, a Hugh Hefner-esque pornographer, a trio of German techno musicians-turned-nihilists, and the angry, wheelchair-bound husband of the kidnapped wife, who was also named Jeffrey Lebowski.

Oh, and there was a lot of bowling (although we never actually see The Dude roll a ball), as well as an irascible, jump-suited John Turturro (as “The Jesus”) and Julianne Moore as the other Lebowski’s artist daughter, a militant feminist with a hilarious clipped accent, a propensity for nude painting, and an improbable attraction to The Dude’s dissolute charms. Plus, a mysterious cowboy narrator (Sam Elliott, in magnificently sonorous voice) who occasionally loses his train of thought.

Watch “The Big Lebowski” trailer

The thing is, I have probably seen “The Big Lebowski” two dozen times since. And I’m not alone, as evidenced by the proliferation of “Lebowski” events in the nearly two decades since The Dude downed his first signature White Russian. There’s DudeFest, LebowskiFest and others, where fans come dressed as their favorite characters, not unlike “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and other cult films that have a mysterious power to become, somehow, more events than movies.

Port City Music Hall certainly knows the (bowling) score, as it’s hosting a gala screening of “The Big Lebowski” Friday at 8 p.m. Doors open at 7, which will give costumed fans the opportunity to compare their versions of The Dude’s relaxed-fit ensemble, Walter’s bowling shirt and tinted sunglasses look or even (if they dare) The Jesus’ skintight, lavender bowling onesie. “Big Lebowski” trivia will precede the screening, complete with prizes and, naturally, plenty of White Russians (to those with proper ID, of course).

But the question remains, why “The Big Lebowski?” This shaggiest of detective comedies, with a protagonist who can barely remember how he was hired or what he’s supposed to be doing from one minute to the next, “The Big Lebowski” is hardly the pageant-friendly spectacle of “Rocky Horror.” But, over the dozens of viewings since, the film’s amiably seductive pull is easier to discern.

Inspired by the Philip Marlowe detective fiction of Raymond Chandler, The Dude walks through the deceptively sun-dappled streets of Los Angeles as the ultimate outsider, his perpetually laid-back demeanor allowing him to navigate the city’s class divisions and crime syndicates with a survivor’s ease. Like Marlowe, The Dude has an elusive code of honor under all that facial hair and lazy-guy padding that marks him out as something like the one sane fool in the city.

Plus, the Coens populate the film with nothing but memorable supporting types, whose stylized dialogue suggests richly weird inner lives in just a few lines. The film’s comedy carries hints of darkness along with the offbeat humor that only gets funnier the more you watch it. (Which will be a lot.)

But, as Lebowski himself sums up in his last line, “The Dude abides” through it all — a statement of purpose that, considering all the madness going on around him, resonates like something strangely profound.

“The Big Lebowski” screens at Port City Music Hall on Friday at 8 p.m., and doors open at 7. Costumes most welcome, and admissions just $5, and is an 18+ event. And, yes, that’s Friday the 13th, but don’t worry. Follow The Dude’s example and you’ll abide just fine.


Frontier (Brunswick)
Friday-Sunday: “One Big Home.” Documentary looks at class warfare in a microcosm, as a carpenter on the tiny island of Martha’s Vineyard looks at how wealthy part-time residents’ quest for bigger, more lavish mansions threatens the locals’ way of life.

Strand Theatre (Rockland)
Monday: “Selma: The Bridge To The Ballot.” Enduringly stirring portrait of the 1965 protest when 600 activists marched 54 miles through Alabama in order to combat racism, segregation and the disenfranchisement of black voters in America.

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