21 Facts About The Big Lebowski
You’re a Lebowski. I’m a Lebowski. These days, pretty much everybody loves The Big Lebowski. But it wasn’t always the case. Since its release and modest reception in 1998, the Coen Brothers' oddball slackerhero tale has enjoyed modern movie history’s most unusual (yet fairly inevitable) ascent to classic status. Here are 21 facts that might have eluded even the most accomplished Lebowski achievers.
1. Lebowski got some love from the Library of Congress
In December of 2014, The Big Lebowski became one of 650 "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" films preserved for future generations through the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. The 2014 class of 25 films included the likes of Saving Private Ryan, Rosemary’s Baby, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The Registry praised the “tale of kidnapping, mistaken identity and bowling” for its exploration of “alienation, inequality and class structure via a group of hard-luck, off-beat characters suddenly drawn into each other’s orbits.”
2. According to Joel Coen, the plot doesn’t really matter
Think about the many things you love about The Big Lebowski: the performances, the musical sequences, the endless onslaught of brilliantly quotable lines, the Jesus. Strangely, the actual plot of the movie is secondary (or fifth-dary) to most people’s enjoyment of the movie. Do you remember what happens to the missing money in the end, or if there even was missing money to begin with?
According to Joel Coen, they knew the plot would probably be a bit confounding to most viewers on the first watch, and they also knew that it probably wouldn’t matter. In a DVD extra for the film, he says, “The plot is sort of secondary to the other things that are sort of going on in the piece. I think that if people get a little confused it’s not necessarily going to get in the way of them enjoying the movie.”
3. The Coen Brothers probably don’t love it as much as you do
We’re assuming the Coen Brothers are plenty fond of The Dude: after all, he doesn’t end up facing imminent death or tragedy, which is more than most of their protagonists have going for them. But in a rare Coen Brothers interview in 2009, Joel Coen flatly stated, “That movie has more of an enduring fascination for other people than it does for us.”
4. It’s partly inspired by Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep
In the rare few interviews where the Coen Brothers discuss their inspiration for The Big Lebowski, they name-drop noir crime writer Raymond Chandler—in particular, his 1939 novel The Big Sleep. According to Joel Coen, Chandler novels “usually follow the main character as he encounters these different characters on a journey to uncover a mystery, or find a missing person, or whatever it may be in the novel. In this case, that was the model for this story.” But unlike hardboiled Big Sleep protagonist detective Philip Marlowe, The Dude is dropped in "the most impossible of situations" and is “the person who seemed least equipped to deal with it."
5. The Dude is present in every scene
In true noir fashion, the lead character—in this case, The Dude, of course—is present in every scene in the movie. This includes the scene where Stormare and the rest of the Nihilist crew are ordering pancakes in a diner, where Walter and The Dude’s van can be seen through the diner window in the background.
6. ...but he isn’t referenced in the title
This may seem obvious to some, but it probably comes as a surprise to others. The title The Big Lebowski is a reference to the millionaire Jeffrey Lebowski, and not The Dude. Jeffrey Lebowski is referred to as “the Big Lebowski” many times throughout the script, but in the movie, the only evidence that he’s the “Big Lebowski” comes when the Dude refers to him as such sporadically, just a few times throughout the film.
7. There’s a musician cameo you might have missed
Most Lebowski diehards know that Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea pops up a few times throughout the movie as one of the ne'er-do-well nihilists trying to shake The Dude down for ransom money (his credited name is “Kieffer,” in case you were wondering). It’s worth noting that gives Flea a not-too-shabby cult classic film resume, considering his appearances in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the last two legs of the Back to the Future trilogy, and Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho. But they might not know that singer/songwriter Aimee Mann also pops up as a nihilist—indeed, the one who has sacrificed a pinky toe for the cause. Mann would play a major part in another now-classic movie that had a hard go of it at the box office the next year, writing music for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia.
8. While there are tons of familiar Coen Brother film faces, Lebowski doesn’t feature their most frequent collaborator
When it comes to familiar faces from the Coen-verse popping up, The Big Lebowski just might be the ultimate Coen Brothers ensemble movie. Major players include John Goodman (featured in 6 Coen Brothers features), Steve Buscemi (5), Jon Polito (5), John Turturro (4), Peter Stormare (2), and Jeff Bridges (2). Missing, however, is the Coen Brothers’ most frequent collaborator, Frances McDormand. She’s had roles in six Coen Brothers movies—soon to be seven, when their upcoming feature Hail, Caesar! is released next year. McDormand is married to Joel Coen, and took home an Oscar for her portrayal of the heroine Marge Gunderson in Fargo.
9. They knew it was a long shot, but the Coen Brothers wanted Brando for Jeffrey Lebowski
According to Alex Belth, who wrote the e-book The Dudes Abide on his time spent working as an assistant to the Coen Brothers, casting the role of Jeffrey Lebowski was one of the last decisions made before filming. Names tossed around for the role included Robert Duvall (who passed because he wasn’t fond of the script), Anthony Hopkins (who passed since he had no interest in playing an American), and Gene Hackman (who was taking a break at the time). A second “wish list” included an oddball “who’s who," including Norman Mailer, George C. Scott, Jerry Falwell, Gore Vidal, Andy Griffith, William F. Buckley, and Ernest Borgnine.
The Coens’ ultimate Big Lebowski, however, was the enigmatic Marlon Brando, who by that time was reaching the end of his career (and life). Apparently, the Coens amused themselves by quoting some of their favorite Jeffrey Lebowski lines (“Strong men also cry”) in a Brando accent. The role would eventually go to the not-particularly-famous (but pitch perfect) veteran character actor David Huddleston. In true Dude fashion, it all worked out in the end.
10. A whole mess of famous people call The Big Lebowski one of their favorite movies
It probably comes as no surprise, but you’re not the only one that loves The Big Lebowski. Actors Jennifer Lawrence, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, John Hawkes, Jane Lynch, Martin Starr, Eva Mendes and Nick Offerman, and directors Sam Raimi and Richard Kelly, have all named-checked it as one of their “Five Favorite Films” on Rottentomatoes.com. Rapper Talib Kweli is such a massive fan, he hosted a screening of Lebowski at the New York IFC Center.
11. A sequel isn’t coming, but one actor is still pushing for a spin-off
The Coen Brothers have repeatedly shot down anything vaguely resembling the idea of writing and directing a sequel, with Joel Coen flatly stating, “I just don’t like sequels.” Still, the rumors persist, and they reached a fever pitch in October of 2014 when unfounded claims that a sequel would start filming in January 2015 started swirling around the internet.
However, if there is an iota of a chance you’ll ever see any of movie's characters spouting out new lines at any point in the future, it’ll probably be the bowling-ball-licking, smooth-rolling, sex offender Jesus Quintana. It’s hard to believe, but John Turturro’s legendary character pops up in just two scenes. Turturro (correctly) thinks the character needs more face time, and has been bothering the Coen Brothers to revisit the character for years, or at least give him permission to go ahead and direct some kind of Jesus-centric spin-off.
12. Since its release, some critics have changed their mind on Lebowski
When you’re a cult classic, initial confusion just comes with the territory. As such, Lebowski, the ultimate cult classic, was hardly met with the near-universal acclaim it receives today when it was released in 1998. Roger Ebert didn’t hate, hate, hate it, giving it 3 out of 4 stars upon its initial release, but he didn’t praise it as an all-time great either. It wasn’t until 2010 that Lebowski entered Ebert’s pantheon of “Great Movies” when he awarded it a perfect 4 of 4. Peter Howell of the Toronto Star initially wrote, “It’s hard to believe that this is the work of a team that won an Oscar last year for the original screenplay of Fargo.” But in 2011, he wrote a piece chalking his original poor review up to “festival fatigue,” and saying, “It may just be my favourite Coen Bros. film, and I’m generally a fan of the Coens.”
Lebowski was also a total slouch at the box office, making an anemic $5 million over its opening weekend, barely covering its $15 million budget, at the domestic box office. But since its initial release, the movie has been nothing short of a cash cow, selling incredibly well on VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray.
13. There are several clever Coen Brothers movie tie-ins you might have missed...
There are several Easter eggs throughout The Big Lebowski for fans of the full Coen Brothers filmography. Steve Buscemi’s character Donny, who famously can never get a word out without Walter telling him to “shut the f**k up”, is the polar opposite of Buscemi’s character Carl Showalter in Fargo, who chatters non-stop to his near-wordless crime accomplice played by Peter Stormare. One of the only reasons Stormare opens his mouth in Fargo is to mention his desire to find a “pancakes house.” He never ends up getting the chance in Fargo, but his nihilist character orders them in The Big Lebowski.
It’s also Coen lore that Buscemi's dead body has ended up in smaller and smaller parts throughout their filmography, finishing up as a corpse in Miller’s Crossing, a disembodied leg in Fargo, and ashes in Lebowski.
14. ...but one Fargo crossover didn’t make the final cut
In the film, it’s eventually revealed that Bunny Lebowski, Jeffrey Lebowski’s trophy wife, is named Fawn Knutson, and was born in Moorhead, Minnesota before running away to Los Angeles. But in the script, Bunny’s real name is Fawn Gunderson, and thus shares a surname with Fargo heroine Marge Gunderson, implying a possible relation. Moorhead is also notably a twin city of Fargo, North Dakota, sitting directly across the North Dakota-Minnesota border.
15. Due to the profanity, cable cuts of Lebowski have required some very creative editing
“Do you have to use so many cuss words?”
It’s surprising that Lebowski is a film that gained much of its following via post-theater cable television runnings, considering “f**k” is uttered 260 times throughout, making it one of the most f-bomb laden feature films ever made. However, even the edited-for-cable versions have gained something of a cult following for their, shall we say, creative word replacements. One version that aired on Comedy Central famously featured Walter bizarrely screaming, “Do you see what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps?" in place of a much more straightforward profanity.
16. Several main characters are inspired by folks the Coen Brothers met in the movie industry
According to the Coen Brothers, The Dude is based in part on Jeff Dowd, a film producer they met while working on their directorial debut, 1984’s Blood Simple. Dowd, who also goes by “The Dude,” was 1/7 of the “Seattle Seven”—seven members of the Seattle Liberation Front that helped organize a 1970 Vietnam War protest at downtown Seattle’s federal courthouse and were charged with "conspiracy to incite a riot" after the protest turned violent.
John Goodman’s Walter Sobchak also had a real-life, Hollywood inspiration: writer and director John Mulius, who had a hand in the making of Dirty Harry, Apocalypse Now, Jaws, Conan the Barbarian, Dirty Harry, and HBO’s Rome. Milius, who sports glasses, a beard, and a figure similar to Walter, claims to be obsessed with the Vietnam War. But unlike Walter, he was never actually able to serve: after attempting to enlist in the ‘60s, he was turned down due to his chronic asthma.
17. Lebowski was once cited in a Texas Supreme Court decision
In 2014, Texas Supreme Court Justice Debra Lehrmann cited the movie in a legal decision on a freedom of speech case. Lehrmann noted that it’s common knowledge that prior restraint, or censorship prior to an expression taking place, has been largely rejected by “the Supreme Court, this Court, Texas courts of appeals, legal treatises, and even popular culture." A footnote attached quoted Walter Sobchak's claim that “the Supreme Court has roundly rejected prior restraint.”
18. Due to the vagueness of the movie’s message (or lack thereof) there have been some very creative interpretations
The Coen Brothers’ indications that The Big Lebowski is about little more than oddball characters crossing each other’s paths has led to some interesting and creative analyses regarding what it all really means. Some of the more interesting takes have included Lebowski as a “a parable of Global Capitalism,” a “modern adaptation of Albert Camus' The Stranger and an illustration of the philosophy of Absurdism,” and even The Dude as “a contemporary Jesus," with the essay’s author noting, among other things, the similarity in hair styles.
Oh, and did we mention Lebowski birthed a religious movement called “Dudeism,” which “preaches non-preachiness,” “practices as little as possible” and shares common ground with the laid back ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism? Because it did.
19. The rug almost ended up tying the movie together
The Dude’s rug is, in many ways, the driving force behind The Big Lebowski from start to finish. The notorious Lebowski rug was such a central part of the film, the Coen Brothers even participated in an interview with Floor Covering Weekly while promoting the movie. In a DVD extra, Ethan Coen notes that producer Joel Silver thought the film should end with The Dude getting his rug back, but the Coens never followed through.
20. Former Rolling Stones manager Allen Klein loved one line in the movie so much, he waived the licensing fee for “Dead Flowers”
From the Sons Of The Pioneers’ “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” to The Dude’s hallucinatory, vaguely pornographic odyssey set to Kenny Rogers’ “Just Dropped In,” the T-Bone Burnett-produced soundtrack is one of the many reasons Lebowski is an enduring classic. Former Rolling Stones manager Allen Klein even offered up the rights to the song “Dead Flowers” gratis. Initially, Klein wanted $150,000, but so adored the scene where The Dude talks about hating “the f**kin’ Eagles,” he waived the licensing fee.
The Eagles crack apparently ended up causing some friction when Jeff Bridges later ran into Eagles member Glenn Frey. According to Bridges, "I can't remember what he said exactly, but my anus tightened a bit."
21. You’ve almost certainly seen Jeffrey Lebowski’s mansion somewhere else
Mr. Lebowski’s not-so-humble Beverly Hills dwelling is known as Greystone Mansion in real life, and has popped up in The Muppets, The Prestige, Rush Hour, The Social Network, The Dirty Dozen, and, perhaps most notably, in the music video for Meat Loaf’s "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That).”