What Is It About 'The Big Lebowski'?

Jul 22, 2013
Originally published on July 22, 2013 6:40 pm

This year marks the 15th anniversary of “The Big Lebowski,” a film that baffled critics and audiences but has spawned perhaps the most loyal cult following of any movie released in recent years.

The epicenter of Lebowksi re-evaluation is Louisville, Kentucky, home of the inaugural Lebowski Fest, a celebration that has brought fans of “The Dude,” as he’s known, together for the last dozen years, and has been replicated across the country.

Joseph Lord from Here & Now contributing station WFPL went to the 12th annual Lebowski Fest in Louisville this weekend to find out what it is exactly that inspires the fans’ devotion.


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This year marks the 15th anniversary of "The Big Lebowski," the film that baffled critics and audiences but has a huge and loyal cult following. Quick, name a line: Yeah, well, that's just, like, your opinion, man. The epicenter of Lebowski re-evaluation is Louisville, Kentucky, home of the Lebowski Fest, which has brought fans of The Dude together for the last dozen years and has been replicated across the country.

Joseph Lord from HERE AND NOW contributing station WFPL went to this weekend's Lebowski Fest in Louisville to find out what it is that inspires this devotion.

JOSEPH LORD, BYLINE: Outside the discrete bowling alley, a line runs the length of the building. The crowd looks awfully odd. Several men dressed alike with long hair and goatees, women wearing Viking helmets, others wearing bikinis. And then there's the man with a megaphone.

WILL RUSSELL: We actually have a little (unintelligible) on the way, so everybody can (unintelligible). So have fun, you guys. Thanks for coming.

LORD: Out of context, the scene would fit right into its inspiration, the 1998 movie, "The Big Lebowski." It's hard to describe, but in short, Jeff Bridges plays a middle-aged hippie called The Dude. When men break into his house and urinate on his rug, The Dude goes on a wild adventure. He's mistaken for a millionaire who is also named Lebowski. Then he's asked to deliver a ransom for the other Lebowski's kidnapped wife. In his travels, he encounters an ever-increasing cast of strange characters.


JEFF BRIDGES: (as The Dude) You know, this could be a lot more complex. I mean, it's not just - it might not be just such a simple, you know?

DAVID HUDDLESTON: (as The Big Lebowski) What in God's holy name are you blathering about?

LORD: When it was released, "The Big Lebowski" was considered a flop, especially since it came from critical darlings Joel and Ethan Coen, who had previously won the best original screenplay Academy Award for "Fargo."

RUSSELL: Even I when I first saw it, I didn't dislike it, but I was kind of indifferent to it. Certainly didn't have an inkling that one day I would start a fan festival celebrating it. But, yeah, I ended up catching it a few more times, and on the third time, I just completely fell in love with it.

LORD: That's Will Russell, the man with the megaphone. Russell and a group of friends started Lebowski Fest in 2002 after realizing they could converse largely through quotes from the movie. The first festival drew a larger than expected crowd and since then they've put on Lebowski Fest across the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The old man told me to take any rug in the house.


LORD: There's just something about "The Big Lebowski" that inspires hundreds of people to drive for hours, dress in costume, answer obscure trivia, and like The Dude and his friends, bowl. Scoop Dale(ph) came to Louisville from Cleveland for the fest. He's seen the movie more than 100 times.

SCOOP DALE: After you've watched it, you realize not a lot happens, but you want to watch it again. And the second time you watch it, the third, the fourth, the fifth, you keep seeing more and more things, not just hidden in the script but visual jokes and layers upon layers.

SARAH LANDLE: It just has like infinite dividends.

LORD: Sarah Landle(ph) bowls or, as they say here, throws rocks. While wearing a bowling pin headdress, she says she realizes this is a strange way to spend a Saturday night, but she loves the movie that much.

LANDLE: It's weird because it doesn't have a plot, but simultaneously, like, you get more out of it, to where it seems like it has a rich, thick plot each time.

LORD: The celebration doesn't have the official backing from the Coens, and Russell had never spoken to either of the filmmakers until shortly before this year's festival when Joel Coen and his wife, actress Frances McDormand, passed through Louisville.

RUSSELL: And, Joel, you know, it was interesting because he did seem genuinely like kind of intrigued by like who is this person? Like who is this guy that started this weird festival about my movie, you know? They seemed genuinely interested in meeting me, which was really nice.

LORD: And Coen gave an autograph that reflected some surprise at the festival's existence and endurance.

RUSSELL: It's the 12th annual Lebowski Fest poster, and it says: Will, a dozen years is too long, Joel Coen.

LORD: Russell doesn't have any plans to stop staging Lebowski Fest, and the fans just keep coming. They see something in the movie and in the characters. At the bowling alley, people take photos of Steve Lewis(ph), who came to Louisville from Chino, California. He's wearing a tan Safari vest like Walter, The Dude's militant best friend, played by John Goodman.

STEVE LEWIS: Everybody always kind of - they can associate themselves with somebody from the movie. Like some people, you know, my brother's a way more Dude than me. And then I have a couple of little friends. They're little Donny, but I'm Walter, like, I'm a little abrasive. I'm a little loud. I'm like, I'm Walter. And you could kind of just dig into one of the characters, and you just live that character and it's just like, that's me.

LORD: To paraphrase the movie, it ties the fans together. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Joseph Lord in Louisville.


YOUNG: And fans of The Dude know that this is "Lujon" by Henry Mancini, and it's not a mistake. It's part of the soundtrack for "The Big Lebowski" film, which was sort of a Coen brothers mix tape.


And we've got some pictures, by the way, of some of these Dude look-alikes at hereandnow.org. I guess maybe you'd call them El Duderino or His Dudeness.

YOUNG: No, you wouldn't. I don't think so.


HOBSON: Maybe not. From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.

YOUNG: I'm Robin Young. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.