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The Big Lebowski: Synopsis

Review Date: 5-23-10

Release Date: 3-6-98

Runtime: 117 min.

Period: early 1990s

Costume designer: Mary Zophres

The Big Lebowski is a film about mistaken identity, but really it all boils down to a soiled rug. There is The Dude (Jeffrey Lebowski, played by Jeff Bridges) and there is the Big Lebowski (Jeffrey Lebowski, played by David Huddleston). Their worlds could not be further apart – The Dude being a grade-A slacker, and The Big Lebowski being a millionaire. It is this divide and juxtaposition that makes the film interesting.

The film opens with The Dude in the grocery store, buying a carton of half-and-half. He wears a bathrobe and flip flops, and pays for the carton by check. When he arrives home, he is attacked by goons sent by (pornographer) Jackie Treehorn, insisting that he pay the debt owed by his wife. “Wife?! Does it look like a woman lives here?!” And indeed, it does not. When the goons realize their error, one of them takes a parting shot at The Dude by urinating on his prized area rug.

The Dude joins his friends Walter (a Vietnam-era PTSD-suffering John Goodman) and Donny (Steve Buscemi) at the bowling alley for league play. They convince The Dude to seek restitution for the soiled rug from the other Jeffrey Lebowski, the millionaire whose wife owes the debt.

The Dude meets the wheelchair-bound Big Lebowski at his mansion. He refuses The Dude’s request for replacement of the rug, insulting The Dude on his appearance and demeanor. As boot-licking assistant Brandt (Philip Seymour Hoffman) escorts him out, The Dude meets Bunny (Tara Reid), the Big Lebowski’s debt-owing wife. She asks The Dude to blow on her freshly-painted toes, and offers him her sexual services for a price. It is clear at this point that she is a loose cannon. The Dude leaves with a rug he has pilfered from the Big Lebowski.

Back at the bowling alley, a fellow bowler Smokey (Jimmie Dale Gilmore) has, according to Walter, committed a foul by stepping over the line. Smokey denies it. The argument escalates. Walter draws a gun and waves it in the air, threatening Smokey. Walter and The Dude get in The Dude’s car, and the cops arrive, overlooking them completely.

The next day, The Dude’s landlord arrives to remind him that he’s late on the rent again (and won’t he come see his dance performance?). The Big Lebowski calls The Dude back to the mansion, to tell him that Bunny has been kidnapped. He offers the dude a proposition – deliver $1M in ransom to her kidnappers for handsome pay. The Dude, being unemployed and behind on his bills, hardly has a choice.

Meanwhile, Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore) comes to The Dude’s house to reclaim “her” rug – the one The Dude took from the Big Lebowski’s mansion. She hits The Dude in the face, and as a result, he has a hallucinatory dream sequence in which he flies over Los Angeles on a magic carpet ride. Turns out Maude gave the rug years ago to her now-deceased mother as a gift, and since it wasn’t the Big Lebowski’s rug to begin with, or his to lose, Maude wants it back.

The Dude receives a briefcase of money, a large “brick” cell phone, and instructions on where to deliver the money from the Big Lebowski. Walter decides he wants to accompany The Dude on the delivery. He has brought with him a “ringer” briefcase, full of his dirty underwear. Walter’s idea is to give the kidnappers the ringer briefcase so that he and The Dude can keep the $1M in ransom. The two set off into the desert. In The Dude’s beat-up jalopy, they look scarily like the Foster Farms Chicken Imposters.

Foster Farms Chicken Imposters -

Foster Farms Chicken Imposters -

They get a phone call to drop the money over a bridge. Walter freaks and throws the “ringer” briefcase over the bridge amid The Dude’s protestations. Soon, guys on motorcycles speed past, ostensibly having picked up the briefcase.

The Dude and Walter go to the bowling alley. Donny tells Walter that the league tournament has been set for Saturday. Walter protests, “It’s Shabbas! I don’t roll on Shabbas!” The brick cell phone starts ringing. They go out to the car – the car is gone. Their $1M (formerly in the car) is gone. Woops.

The cops come to The Dude’s home to interview him about the stolen car. Meanwhile Maude calls and leaves a message. The Dude goes to her house. She greets him by flying over him on a zip-line, spraying paint on to a canvas. She’s naked. She tells The Dude that Bunny is a nymphomaniac, and shows him a porno (starring Bunny and “Karl Hungus”, played by Peter Stormare) to prove it.

Maude also tells The Dude that the Big Lebowski has stolen $1M from their charitable foundation (under the auspices of paying ransom), and she asks him to get the money back. She also advises him to see a doctor about the injury she caused to his jaw while getting her rug back.

The Dude is cruising back home in a limo, when the car stops. He is assaulted and taken to another limo, where the Big Lebowski awaits. He grills The Dude about the fact that the kidnappers did not get their money. The Dude tells the Big Lebowski about the theory that Bunny has kidnapped herself in order to resolve her debt, but the Big Lebowski threatens him. He gives The Dude a present – a severed human toe bearing the same toenail polish on which Bunny previously asked him to blow.

Later, The Dude is taking a bath by candlelight when Karl Hungus (also known as Uli Kunkel) busts into his apartment with a couple of his nihilist buddies, breaking his stuff with cricket bats. They throw a ferret into the bathtub with The Dude, who refers to it as a “marmot”. The Dude freaks. They leave, smashing more stuff as they go.

The Dude’s car turns up at a police impound yard. He goes to retrieve the car, and discovers the briefcase is not there. He goes to the bowling alley, where he meets The Stranger (Sam Elliott), a cowboy with a big moustache. The Dude gets a call from Maude. She calls him to her house.

The Dude learns that Uli Kunkel/Karl Hungus is an acquaintance of Maude’s, and she has one of his albums from the late 1970s, when he was with a band called Autobahn. She insists that The Dude go to the doctor. The Dude goes to the doctor, who orders him to slide his shorts down. “But she hit me right here!” he protests, pointing at his face.

The Dude drives home, drinking a beer and smoking a joint. He tries to flick it out the window, but the live joint lands in his lap instead. Panicked, he tries to get it off him, and crashes into a tree. Getting out of the car, he finds something curious wedged in the front seat: homework. It’s a paper written by a junior-high-aged student about the Louisiana Purchase. The paper has earned the student a D.

The Dude and Donny are watching The Dude’s landlord’s horrible dance performance. Walter shows up, having done research into the author of the Louisiana Purchase homework. Turns out the kid who wrote it (Larry, played by Jesse Flanagan), is the son of a famous TV series writer. They go to his home, and see a brand new red sports car out front. They fear the worst – that the money has already been spent.

They enter the home, and find the father in a hyperbaric chamber, unable to talk. The Dude and Walter are unable to get any answers from Larry. Frustrated and pissed off, Walter takes a crowbar to the sports car, smashing the windows in. Larry watches in stoic silence. A man runs out from a neighboring house, hysterical that Walter is destroying HIS new car. Woops.

Back at The Dude’s house, Walter calls – The Dude wants nothing to do with him. Treehorn’s goons show up and take The Dude to the Treehorn mansion. Treehorn (Ben Gazzara) wants his money, owed to him by Bunny. “Where’s Bunny?” he demands. He drugs The Dude, and the world goes dark.

A short-film fantasy plays out: The Dude, dressed all in white in a “repairman’s” coverall, picks up silver and gold bowling shoes from Saddam Hussein. Showgirls with bowling pin headdresses dance to reveal Maude, dressed as a Wagnerian Brunhilde. The showgirls line up on the bowling lane, letting a ball roll between their legs to the pins. The ball turns into The Dude… strike!!

Uli Kenkel and the other two nihilist goons appear, wearing red spandex suits with hoods, wielding giant scissors. They chase The Dude, and he finds himself back in reality, in the back of a police car. The police chief of Malibu confronts him, orders him out of town, and hits him in the forehead with a coffee mug. “Stay out of Malibu, Lebowski! Stay out of Malibu, Deadbeat!”

In the back of a cab, The Dude nurses his head injury. He asks the cab driver to change the station; he doesn’t like The Eagles. The cab driver kicks him out of the taxi, infuriated. A red convertible sports car screams by, Bunny at the helm, all ten toes intact, stereo blaring Viva Las Vegas.

The Dude returns to his home to find it ransacked. Maude is there. “Love me,” she commands him. Later, they are in bed – The Dude smokes a joint and tells her a little bit about himself. Maude curls up in a ball, rolling on her back. She tells The Dude that it increases the chances of conception. Dude spit-takes. He calls Walter to pick him up, but it’s Shabbas. The Dude threatens to leave the bowling team if Walter doesn’t pick him up.

The Dude goes outside to wait for Walter, and sees the blue VW bug that’s been following him for a few days. He confronts the driver, Da Fino (Jon Polito), a private detective. Da Fino thinks The Dude is also a detective and asks to pool their resources. Da Fino has been hired by the Knudtsen family of Minnesota, looking for their lost daughter, who turns out to be Bunny. Walter screeches up in his van.

The nihilists order breakfast at a diner. They are accompanied by a girl with a curiously bandaged (missing) toe. Walter is annoyed that The Dude called him out on Shabbas, when he is not supposed to drive unless it is an emergency. They see (Bunny’s) red sports car crashed into a fountain. They go to the mansion to confront the Big Lebowski. Walter accuses the Big Lebowski of “faking” being in a wheelchair. He picks him up out of the chair, and drops him with a thud to the ground. He’s not faking. Woops.

Donny, The Dude and Walter bowl at the alley. They go out to the parking lot to discover their car on fire. The nihilists stand defiantly, demanding their money. The Dude reminds them that there is no hostage – the girl left of her own volition. The nihilists: “Ve don’t care, Ve still vant the money, Lebowski!” Walter goes nuts and a fight ensues – he bites the ear off of one of them. Donny has a heart attack… and dies.

The Dude and Walter go to the funeral home to claim Donny’s ashes. They take his ashes in a coffee can to the ocean. Walter says a few words (and inappropriately goes on a rant about young men dying in Vietnam) and releases the ashes into the wind. The Dude is covered in grey ash. They fight, then they hug.

The film ends in the bowling alley, in a bookend with The Stranger, the cowboy, alluding to a “little Lebowski” on the way…

The end.

-KMB

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