Take it From the Dude: Stories from the Set of The Big Lebowski

The Coen brothers (Joel and Ethan Coen) have made more than a handful of classic movies over the years (to name a few… Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Man Who Wasn’t There, True Grit, No Country for Old Men), but it looks like only one of them created such a cult following. Heck, The Big Lebowski even spawned the creation of its own religion, okay. The Big Lebowski, which is a blend of stoner comedy and something of a Chandler-esque mystery, actually bombed at the box office when it first came to theaters in 1998.

Big Lebowski collage
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But this is an example of how a box office flop can turn into a cult classic, a kind of following that only a few films ever achieve. This is a movie that people still watch and enjoy today as if they’re seeing it for the first time. And ask anyone who’s seen the movie how many times they’ve seen it. I guarantee you they watched it more than twice. On that note, let’s look at all the things you need to know about The Big Lebowski. I promise you, after reading this, you’re gonna want to watch it again.

See what really went down on the set, how much that rug cost, and how much Jeff Bridges is really like The Dude in real life…

The Coen Brothers Didn’t Know Who Would Be the Dude While Writing

Believe it or not, Jeff Bridges, who is simply perfect in this role (maybe because he’s a lot like the Dude in real life – or so I hear) wasn’t in the minds of the Coen brothers when they were writing the script. The Coens have a handful of regular collaborators, actors that they have in mind when creating certain characters. When they were writing the script, they wrote Walter with John Goodman in mind, Donny, with Steve Buscemi in mind; and Jesus knowing that John Turturro would do it.

The Big Lebowski publicity still, Jeff Bridges as Jeffrey
Source: moviestillsdb.com, Copyright: Polygram Filmed Entertainment

But they didn’t have any actor in mind when writing for the Dude. Here’s another “believe it or not” – they considered Mel Gibson for the role! Gibson retracted the offer as he didn’t take the role seriously. Then Jeff Bridges’ name came up, and the Coen brothers realized there was no one better. They even delayed production to wait for his schedule to clear up.

Ever Heard of Raymond Chandler’s Detective Stories?

Well, the script for The Big Lebowski were inspired by those stories. When they first came up with the idea for the movie, the Coen brothers wanted to make a Raymond Chandler-style detective story; specifically the noir classic ‘The Big Sleep.’ Instead of a gritty private eye like Philip Marlowe, the protagonist was to be a confused stoner named Jeffrey Lebowski, aka the Dude, who really just wants to go bowling.

Photo by Fotos International/Shutterstock

The idea was to structure the story the same way that Chandler would: following the protagonist deeper and deeper into this criminal underworld, discovering new places and people along the way. The Stranger (played by Sam Elliott) was created to be the voice of the audience. In short, it was genius. And the Coen brothers, simply put, know what they’re doing.

Where Do You Find “Terminally Relaxed” Clothes?

Every movie has its own wardrobe department, and more often than not, the costume designer will make the clothes that the film’s characters wear in the scenes. But then sometimes they just go out and buy clothes. The Dude has a, let’s say, very specific style – from his beige cardigan to his checkered shorts –a style that has inspired future hipsters for years to come.

The Big Lebowski promo shot, Sam Elliott, Jeff Bridges
Source: moviestillsdb.com, Copyright: Polygram Filmed Entertainment

According to Mary Zophres, one of the costume designers who worked on the film, the Dude was described in the script as being “terminally relaxed.” What does that even mean? Well, Zophres said that this was “the most important piece of information that I had” when she was making the Dude’s wardrobe. And so the wardrobe department ended up getting all of his clothes from local thrift stores, which are pretty much the kind of stores that they figured The Dude would shop at. And they got it bang on.

Jeff Bridges’ Alternative to Method Acting

Jeff, “the Dude” Lebowski, has become an icon in the stoner underworld. The Dude is the epitome of a pothead, one for the film history books. Jeff Bridges went to great lengths to sell it as believable. Before he filmed any scene, Bridges would go up to the Coen brothers and ask them: “Did the Dude burn one on the way over?”

The Big Lebowski publicity still, Jeff Bridges as Jeffrey
Source: moviestillsdb.com, Copyright: Polygram Filmed Entertainment

If the directors told him that yes, the Dude would definitely have burned one on the way and thus was supposed to be mildly high in the scene, Bridges would rub his knuckles into his eyes before shooting a take. This made his eyes appear bloodshot, and therefore make him look high. This was his alternative to “method acting.”

No, Jeff Bridges Wasn’t High When Playing the Dude

Jeff Bridges surprised many when he made the tactical decision not to smoke marijuana when filming The Big Lebowski. In 2019, Bridges, now 70, revisited his character from 1998. He revealed that he was never actually high on the set – something that fans of the movie were probably surprised to hear.

The Big Lebowski publicity still, Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore
Source: moviestillsdb.com, Copyright: Polygram Filmed Entertainment

“I’ve smoked a bit of herb in my time. I chose not to smoke any doing that movie because of the lines; every man, every f-bomb you wanted to get right in the music. You didn’t want to be improving stuff. I thought, I gotta lay off the pot, man,” he said in true Jeff Bridges fashion. He also commented on the surreal fact that there’s a whole new generation of college kids (who also smoke pot) who are seeing this movie for the first time.

John Turturro Helped Create Jesus

One of the best things about the movie is how each character is equally important and has his own personality and his own following, even if it was a minor role. A perfect example is Jesus, the eccentric character played by a Coen Brother favorite, John Turturro. Due to his loyal working relationship with the brothers, Turturro actually expected to have a bigger role in The Big Lebowski.

The Big Lebowski promo shot, John Turturro as Jesus Quintana
Source: moviestillsdb.com, Copyright: Polygram Filmed Entertainment

And so when he was sent the script, he was surprised to discover that Jesus Quintana was a pretty minor role. But since they trusted Turturro’s instincts, they gave him the freedom to build the character. This only makes me appreciate Jesus even more! His ideas made Jesus iconic. Just think about the way he shines the bowling ball and the backward dance (which was reportedly inspired by Muhammad Ali).

Walter Sobchak’s Real-Life Inspiration

John Goodman’s character, Walter Sobchak, was partially inspired by the Coen brothers’ friend and filmmaker John Milius. You know Milius from some of his more popular films, like Apocalypse Now and Red Dawn. He’s known for some extreme things, like his right-wing political views, his obsession with guns and the army, and his bad temper.

John Milius / John Goodman as Walter Sobchak
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The Coen bros thought of Milius when they were writing about Walter. While Milius didn’t qualify to serve in Vietnam like Walter, he did try to get deployed. Then there’s Walter’s size, beard, hairstyle, and sunglasses, which were all taken from Milius’ fashion sense. The Coens had tried to cast Milius in a role in their movie, Barton Fink, but he turned the offer down.

Some of the Characters Were Inspired By Folks in Hollywood

According to the Coen brothers, The Dude’s character is partly based on Jeff Dowd, a producer they met when working on their 1984 debut film, Blood Simple. Dowd also goes by “The Dude,” was also one of the “Seattle Seven.” Those were the seven members of the Seattle Liberation Front that organized a 1970 Vietnam War protest at the federal courthouse and were charged with “conspiracy to incite a riot.”

Jeff Bridges and Jeff 'The Dude' Dowd
Photo By A Rodriguez/BEI/Shutterstock

Another source of inspiration was the Coens’ friend Peter Exline, who coined the phrase “It really tied the room together” when he described one of his own rugs. Pete and his friend, “Big” Lew Abernathy (a private detective who the Coens never met), are considered to be an inspiration. Aside from John Milius, Walter’s character was also inspired by their friend Pete…

Walter is Also Based on Their Friend Pete

Walter can be said to be a hypothetical lovechild of both John Milius and their friend Pete Exline, who was a Vietnam War vet and college professor. Apparently, he once jokingly tried to scare his students by yelling, “First Vietnam, now this?!” while hitting a chair, in a way that Walter does who non-jokingly compares everything to Vietnam.

The Big Lebowski publicity still, John Goodman, Jeff Bridges
Source: moviestillsdb.com, Copyright: Polygram Filmed Entertainment

Pete also told the Coen brothers about a story where his car had been stolen, and Abernathy helped him to investigate. They found the homework of a 14-year-old in the car, and instead of telling the cops, they put the homework in a bag and drove out to the teen’s home to confront him. But unlike in the movie, the real kid didn’t steal the car, and Abernathy didn’t bash a car outside the kid’s house.

Pay Attention to the Briefcase-Throwing Scene

Remember the scene where Walter tosses the ringer briefcase full of all of his “dirty undies” out the car window? Well, that was no easy scene to film. But they tried so many times to get it right. No matter how many times the briefcase was thrown out the window, they just couldn’t get it to fly through the air in a perfect arc. In the end, it was filmed backward.

Briefcase-Throwing Scene in The Big Lebowski
Source: YouTube

Sometimes the directors and cinematographers have to get creative. They decided to shoot the scene backward. So, instead of driving forward and throwing the briefcase out, the driver drove the car in reverse, and a crew member threw the briefcase to him. The shot was reversed in post-production to make it look like it was thrown from the car. The magic of movies, ladies and gentlemen.

Even the Coen Brothers Make Mistakes… Or Do They?

There’s a historical inaccuracy (or we can call it a hidden character quirk if you want) in the movie’s opening scene. In that first scene, which was set at Ralph’s grocery store, the Dude buys some milk, and to pay for it, and he writes a check for 69 cents. In the background, George H.W. Bush’s “This aggression will not stand” press interview is playing on a nearby TV.

Dude dates his check as September 11, 1991, in The Big Lebowski
Source: themuy.com

It’s meant to be playing live. But in reality, that press interview took place on August 5, 1990, on the lawn of the White House. Yet the Dude dates his check as September 11, 1991. This was both a historical inaccuracy and a mistake, or it was a hidden sign from the Coens that the Dude is so broke that he has to post-date a check by more than a year.

Do You Know The Dude’s Source of Income?

An amusing ongoing witticism in The Big Lebowski is that the Dude’s job or the source of income is never actually revealed, kind of like Kramer on Seinfeld (was that ever revealed by the way?) But an early draft of the Lebowski script does actually mention how the Dude makes his money. In the original script, he’s said to be the heir to the Rubik’s Cube fortune as one of the descendants of its inventor.

The Big Lebowski, Jeff Bridges
Source: Moviestore Collection/Shutterstock

This meant that the character Lebowski was Hungarian, which indeed explains the name. So why didn’t this part of the script makes its way into the movie? Midway through the writing process, Joel Coen though that it would be better to scrap the explanation and just simply never mention where the Dude gets his money from. I agree with Joel – it’s much more fun.

The Rug Almost Tied the Movie Together

In many ways, The Dude’s rug is the driving force behind the whole movie, from start to finish. The notorious rug was such a big part of the film that the Coens even did an interview with Floor Covering Weekly when they were promoting the movie. In the DVD commentary, Ethan Coen said how producer Joel Silver thought the movie should end with The Dude getting his rug back. But the Coens didn’t follow through with that idea.

The Big Lebowski publicity still, Jeff Bridges as Jeffrey
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In the search to find out what kind of rug it was (which the movie never reveals), many rug salesmen claimed that it was a Kashan rug in hopes of attracting new clients. But according to ELLE Decor, the long central diamond is typical of a Herati rug. They also claimed that The Dude’s rug holds 600,000 knots in a single square meter and looks like it’s worth at least $1,000.

The Dude Had a Bowling Instructor on Set

Barry Asher was Jeff Bridge’s bowling instructor on set. As it turns out, Turturro, Buscemi, and Bridges all took bowling lessons from this guy. He was a bowling champion and one of the best bowlers in the world. Bridges told Rolling Stone in an interview how he asked Asher what the Dude’s preparation would be, and Asher told him a story about his own preparation when he bowls.

Barry Asher runs the pro shop at Fountain Bowl.
Barry Asher runs the pro shop at Fountain Bowl. Source: ocregister.com

Apparently, Asher told Bridges that there’s something Zen about bowling, saying, “the pins are down before you even bring your ball back.” Asher would get up to bowl, and he would prepare. According to Bridges, he would wait for five, ten minutes, while his bowling partners on his team would say, “Throw the f**king ball!” He told Bridges how he even went to therapy about it. When he asked him, “So how do you do it now?” Asher said, “I just get up and throw the f**king ball. I don’t think.”

The Dude Is in Every Scene

In true film noir fashion, the lead character is present in every scene in the movie. In this case, the Dude is in every scene of the movie. This even includes the scene where Peter Stormare and the rest of the crew are ordering pancakes in the diner, where Walter and the Dude’s van are seen through the diner window in the background.

The Big Lebowski, David Huddleston
Photo by Moviestore Collection/Shutterstock

Did you know that the Dude is not the Lebowski referenced in the title? This might seem obvious to some, but it might surprise others. The title “The Big Lebowski” is an allusion to the millionaire Jeffrey Lebowski, not The Dude. Jeffrey Lebowski is referred to as “the Big Lebowski” throughout the written script, but in the film, the only evidence that he is the “Big Lebowski” is when the Dude refers to him sporadically, which is just a few times throughout the film.

The Coen Brothers Don’t Love the Film As Much As You Do

I don’t think many of us thought about whether or not the Coen brothers even like the movie. I mean, we can assume they do since The Dude doesn’t end up facing death or tragedy, which is more than many of their protagonists can say. But in a 2009 interview, Joel flatly stated: “That movie has more of an enduring fascination for other people than it does for us.”

The Big Lebowski, Jeff Bridges, John Goodman
Photo by Moviestore Collection/Shutterstock

But there are a whole bunch of celebrities that say The Big Lebowski is one of their favorite movies. Jennifer Lawrence, Jonah Hill, John Hawkes, Jane Lynch, Seth Rogen, Martin Starr, Eva Mendes, and Nick Offerman have all checked it as one of their “Five Favorite Films” on Rotten Tomatoes. Rapper Talib Kweli is such a fan that, in 2013, he hosted a screening of the movie at New York City’s IFC Center.

Joel Coen Says the Plot Doesn’t Really Matter

Think about the things you love about this movie. Is it the unique performance? The music? The many quotable lines? Jesus? In this particular movie, the actual plot of the movie is not even secondary – it’s maybe tertiary. Do you even remember what happens to the money in the end? Or if there even was any missing money to begin with?

Joel and Ethan Coen on the set of The Big Lebowski.
Photo by Moviestore Collection/Shutterstock

Well, according to Joel Coen, they knew the plotline would be a bit confusing to the audience on the first watch. They also knew that it probably wouldn’t matter either. “The plot is sort of secondary to the other things that are sort of going on in the piece,” he said in the DVD commentary for the film. “I think that if people get a little confused, it’s not necessarily going to get in the way of them enjoying the movie.”

Some Big Names Were Considered for the Role of Jeffrey Lebowski

Considering how they didn’t have any particular actor in mind at first when making the character of Jeffrey Lebowski, they had to think of who would be good to cast in the role. According to Alex Belth, who was an assistant to the Coen brothers during the production of the film, they had a tough time casting the older Jeff Lebowski. They didn’t have any actors in mind and had to think really hard about who would fit best.

Philip Seymour Hoffman and David Huddleston in The Big Lebowski
Source: IMDB

They offered the part to several actors who all turned the part down. Robert Duvall turned it down as he didn’t like the script; Gene Hackman was on a hiatus from acting, and Anthony Hopkins wasn’t interested in playing an American. Their search expanded to some ‘out-there’ options like Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, Andy Griffith, George C. Scott, and Ernest Borgnine. The man they really wanted was Marlon Brando. The role eventually went to the not-so-famous veteran actor David Huddleston.

There Have Been Some Creative Interpretations

The Coen brothers’ have indicated that The Big Lebowski is not much more than a story with oddball characters who cross each other’s paths. This means that such a vague movie message is going to be interpreted in many ways, and some analyses have been pretty interesting and creative as to what it all really means.

Julianne Moore, Jeff Bridges, and John Goodman. New York, 2011.
Photo by Carolyn Contino/BEI/Shutterstock

Some interpretations included Lebowski as a “parable of Global Capitalism,” or as a “modern adaptation of Albert Camus’ The Stranger and an illustration of the philosophy of Absurdism.” Some say The Dude is “a contemporary Jesus,” which was fully detailed in an essay with the author noting, among other things, the similarity in their hairstyles. Speaking of Jesus (and not Turturro’s character), the movie sparked a whole religion.

Are You a Dudeist?

Lebowski birthed a religious movement, something called Dudeism. This doctrine, “preaches non-preachiness,” and “practices as little as possible.” Dudeism even shares common ground with the laid-back ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism. According to Wikipedia, Dudeism is a religion, philosophy, or lifestyle inspired by “The Dude.”

Jeff Bridges and John Goodman
Photo by Dave Allocca/Starpix/Shutterstock

Dudeism’s primary goal is to promote a modern version of Chinese Taoism, blended with concepts from the Greek philosopher Epicurus, which is personified by Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski. Dudeism is regarded as a mock religion due to its comedic film references, but its founder and followers take the philosophy seriously. March 6, by the way, is the annual high holy day of Dudeism: The Day of the Dude. This only begs the question: are you a Dudeist?

When He was Most Like the Dude

During his interview for the Rolling Stone, Jeff Bridges was asked at what point in his life he was most like The Dude. He replied by saying that he didn’t go to college, that he got more into movies. “There was a time when I was living in a small studio apartment in Santa Monica and did some art, smoking quite a bit and hanging out with my friends.”

The Big Lebowski, Jeff Bridges
Photo by Moviestore Collection/Shutterstock

They would have these things called “Wednesday Night Jams” with his buddies, and they did this for about 15 years after high school. “No songs allowed, just jams, you know? But it’s some wild stuff.” He described his group of friends, which in his words were “kinda like Donny and Walter – my brand of those guys.”

A Semi-Spinoff Didn’t Do So Well…Yet

The Coens have consistently shot down the idea of doing a sequel, with Joel flatly stating, “I just don’t like sequels.” But the rumors persist, probably because fans are craving it so much. In October of 2014, there was something of a conspiracy on the internet, where claims were being made that a sequel was going to be filmed in January of 2015. Then in 2016, it was reported that John Turturro was filming a spinoff of sorts that would feature his character, Jesus Quintana.

The Big Lebowski, John Turturro
Photo by Moviestore Collection/Shutterstock

It’s hard to believe, but that legendary character was in just two scenes. Turturro thinks the character needs more face time, and I don’t think anyone is going to disagree with him. He has actually been nagging the Coen brothers for years to revisit the character, or at least give him permission to direct some kind of Jesus-centric spin-off. This is where ‘Going Places’ or ‘The Jesus Rolls’ comes in.

John Turturro Was Embarrassed By His Scenes

The new spinoff film just recently came out, and according to IMDb, it got a 5.3/10 rating (69 votes). Ouch. But who knows, maybe its cult following is soon to come. Turturro may be giving new life to Jesus in the new film, but the actor wasn’t immediately captivated by the character of Jesus. “The first time they showed my scenes to me, I was really embarrassed,” Turturro told The Hollywood Reporter about The Big Lebowski in 2017.

The Jesus Rolls movie poster
Source: IMDB

“I didn’t even get the movie when it came out. When I saw it, I thought Jeff Bridges was great, but it went over my head.” But to his surprise and to his liking, Jesus ended up becoming a fan-favorite character. Turturro also explained that the new movie is “not a spinoff of The Big Lebowski. It’s much more sexual. You find out that he was framed as a pedophile.”

Since Its Release, Some Critics Have Changed Their Mind About The Big Lebowski

Roger Ebert didn’t hate it, having given it three out of four stars after its initial release, but he didn’t praise it very much either. It wasn’t until 2010 that the movie entered Ebert’s list of “Great Movies” when he gave it a perfect 4 out of 4 stars. As it turns out, Ebert wasn’t the only critic who changed his mind.

Jeff Bridges, John Goodman
Photo by Polygram/Working Title/Kobal/Shutterstock

Peter Howell of the Toronto Star originally 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 then in 2011, he wrote a piece that explained how his original poor review was because of “festival fatigue,” saying, “It may just be my favorite Coen Bros film, and I’m generally a fan of the Coens.”

A Box Office Bomb

The Big Lebowski, as you know, was a total flop at the box office. But if you want specifics, it only made a mere $5 million at the domestic box office over the opening weekend, which barely covered its $15 million budget. But since then, the movie turned into a cash cow, selling amazingly well on VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray. Remember those things?

The Dude and Brandt enter the Greystone living room.
Source: lamag.com

By the way, you’ve seen Jeffrey Lebowski’s mansion somewhere else. The less-than-humble Beverly Hills home is known as the Greystone Mansion in real life and has been seen in The Muppets, The Prestige, Rush Hour, The Social Network, and The Dirty Dozen. But maybe most importantly, the mansion was in the music video for Meat Loaf’s “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).” Now there’s a fact you can tell your friends.

Did You Catch All the Easter Eggs?

There are several Easter eggs throughout the movie that only true Coen bros fans will notice and appreciate. For one, Steve Buscemi’s character Donny, who just can’t get a word in without Walter telling him to “shut the f**k up,” is really the polar opposite of his character Carl in Fargo, who babbles nonstop to his crime accomplice (played by Peter Stormare).

The Big Lebowski publicity still
Source: moviestillsdb.com, Copyright: Polygram Filmed Entertainment

It’s also in Coen tradition that Buscemi’s dead body ends up in smaller and smaller parts throughout their films, finishing as a corpse in Miller’s Crossing, as a disembodied leg in Fargo, and as ashes in The Big Lebowski. Another Fargo Easter egg didn’t make the final cut. In the film, it’s revealed that Bunny Lebowski is named Fawn Knutson, who was born in Moorhead, Minnesota. But in the script, Bunny’s name is Fawn Gunderson, sharing a surname with Marge Gunderson, implying a relation.

Jeff Bridges Will Forever be The Dude

Jeff Bridges, now 70, will always be known as The Dude, and he’more than okay with it. It’s been more than 20 years since The Big Lebowski transformed Jeff “the actor” Bridges into a pop cult icon. Bridges is famously cool with the whole Lebowski legacy. And it’s obvious why within moments of people meeting him. He really is the kind of guy who will think dreamily over lunch.

Jeff Bridges and John Goodman
Photo by Dave Allocca/Starpix/Shutterstock

As it turns out, Bridges “likes a lot of that Buddhist stuff,” as he mentioned in an interview for GQ. He even drew a picture of the labyrinth (maze) he mowed into the grass on his lawn at his Santa Barbara home. As he puts it, it really ties the yard together. (If I could wink right now, I would). Bridges says, “The idea is, it’s a walking meditation. Sometimes I’ll do it in a dance, and sometimes I’ll do it for Easter.”

He Was Like the Dude in the 60s

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Bridges talked about how his life was like in the 60s – an element that’s important in the Big Lebowski. He said how, when the Coens presented him with the script, “I couldn’t figure out where they got this character. It was like nothing I had played before. But it seemed like they had been in a few parties back in the 60s with me or something. It reminded me a lot of myself back in those days. I smoked my share of pot and all that, and the long hair.”

The Big Lebowski publicity still
Source: moviestillsdb.com, Copyright: Polygram Filmed Entertainment

Bridges said that one of the ways he prepares for a role is to look at himself and think, ‘what aspects of myself am I going to use and what sides do I want to kick to the curb?’ They even went to his own closet to see his clothes, and they kind of matched the Dude. Those jelly sandals, those T-shirts – they were things he already had.

When Jeff Meets Jeff

So how similar is the real Jeff to the fictional Jeff? According to Bridges, their basic philosophies are the same. “I bet the Dude is into some Eastern philosophy. You know he’s got some Buddhist books on his shelf, he said in the Rolling Stone interview. He further explained in true Jeff Bridges style “how the more open you get, life keeps challenging that openness to open you more,”

Jeff Bridges in The Contender.
Source: IMDB

And at some point, he says to himself, “Well, that’s the game. I’m just gonna sit back and dig the way it is.” He then mentioned how the next movie he did after Lebowski was, The Contender. He said to play the President after playing the Dude was something of the antithesis of the Dude.

Due to All the Profanity, Censorship Had to Get Creative

Do you know how many times the F word is used in The Big Lebowski? Wanna make a guess? Well, I’ll just tell you: 260 times. Surprisingly, a film with so many cuss words gained much of its following via post-theater cable TV airings. It’s one of the most f-bomb-laden films ever made, actually.

Steve Buscemi, Jeff Bridges, John Goodman
Photo by Polygram/Working Title/Kobal/Shutterstock

But even the edited-for-cable versions of the movie have gained a cult following for their “creative” and laughable word replacements. One version aired on Comedy Central that famously featured Walter screaming, “This is what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps!” which is an alternative to a much profane sentence. That clean version is frequently cited as one of the more “creative” edits made for a movie to be aired on TV.

“Dead Flowers” and The Eagles

The T-Bone Burnett-produced movie soundtrack for this film is one of the many reasons it’s an enduring classic. From the Sons of the Pioneers’ “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” to The Dude’s hallucinatory odyssey set to Kenny Rogers’s “Just Dropped In,” the soundtrack is full of gems. Even the Rolling Stone’s manager was such a huge fan of the movie that he waved some licensing fees.

Glenn Frey of the Eagles performing at Town and Country, London, Britain / The Big Lebowski, Jeff Bridges
Photo by Andre Csillag/Shutterstock / Moviestore Collection/Shutterstock

Their former manager, Allen Klein, gave up the rights to the song “Dead Flowers” for free. Initially, he wanted $150,000 for the line, but he just loved the scene where The Dude talks about hating “the f**kin’ Eagles,” so much that he waived the licensing fee. That crack at The Eagles apparently ended up causing some real friction when Jeff Bridges ran into Eagles member Glenn Frey later on. “I can’t remember what he said exactly,” Bridges said, “but my anus tightened a bit.”

A Nod From the Library Of Congress

In December of 2014, many years after the movie ever came out, The Big Lebowski became one of the Library of Congress’ 700 “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” movies preserved for future generations through their National Film Registry. The Registry praised the Big Lebowski for its “tale of kidnapping, mistaken identity, and bowling.”

The Big Lebowski poster
Source: joblo.com

They also appreciated its exploration of “alienation, inequality, and class structure via a group of hard-luck, off-beat characters suddenly drawn into each other’s orbits.” That’s a nice way of putting it! Other films that were included that year were Saving Private Ryan, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Rosemary’s Baby, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. You would think that a typical “stoner film” wouldn’t be included in something so prestigious, but hey, we’ll take it.

Did You Catch the Musician Cameo?

Diehard Lebowski fans already know that Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea pops up on the screen a few times as one of the “ne’er-do-well” anarchists trying to get ransom money from the Dude. His name in the credits is “Kieffer” in case you’re wondering. Flea has a not-too-shabby cult classic resume, with appearances in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the Back to the Future trilogy, and My Own Private Idaho.

Flea in the Big Lebowski
Source: Reddit

There’s also another musician cameo. Singer/songwriter Aimee Mann also pops up as one of the nihilists – the one who sacrificed her pinky toe for the cause. Mann played a major part in another classic movie that also had a hard go at the box office the next year. She wrote music for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia.

The Dude’s Dream Sequence

Almost all of the symbols in The Dude’s second dream sequence are taken from the earlier scenes. The scene of his exaggerated walking and casting a big shadow is similar to his landlord’s dance to “Pictures at an Exhibition.” The black and white tiled floor is from an earlier scene in the Big Lebowski’s entrance when The Dude walks with Brandt.

Jerry Haleva, The Big Lebowski - 1998
Photo by Polygram/Working Title/Kobal/Shutterstock

The tool belt and outfit The Dude is seen wearing is the same one that was worn by Karl Hungus (Peter Stormare’s character) in Logjammin.’ Saddam Hussein standing behind the counter was mentioned by Walter in the car outside the bowling alley. Maude’s gold bowling ball bra was taken from the bowling balls on the rack behind Walter in an earlier scene. The list goes on and on.

The Dude Abides

The line “The Dude abides” is actually a reference to Ecclesiastes 1:4: “One generation passes away, and another generation comes: but the Earth abides forever.” The Coen brothers were referencing how the Dude, a lot like the Earth, can create change and chaos around him, but he still remains the same. Here’s a fun fact: Jeff Bridges (in his second career as a musician), sometimes tours with a band called “The Abiders.”

The Dude abides Book
Source: Amazon

The Dude actually has a habit of repeating phrases that he hears from other characters. For example, the George Bush speech (“This aggression will not stand”) is repeated by The Dude to the Big Lebowski. Then there’s the moment when Brandt tells The Dude that “her life is in your hands,” which The Dude later repeats during the ransom delivery.

The Dude’s Repeated Lines

Walter tells The Dude that “nothing is fu**ed,” which Jeff then repeats in the limo. Also, in the limo, Jeff repeats a phrase Maude made earlier: “Parlance of our times.” The Big Lebowski says he “will not abide another toe!” which at the end of the movie becomes “The Dude abides.” Many of the main characters do the same, just not always with phrases they heard.

Steve Buscemi, John Goodman, Jeff Bridges
Photo by Polygram/Working Title/Kobal/Shutterstock

For example, the Treehorn thugs said, “Do you see what happens, Lebowski?” when Woo peed on the rug. Then Walter said, “Do you see what happens, Larry?” when he smashed the Corvette. Walter said, “The Chinaman is not the issue here!” in the bowling alley, and in the next scene, the Big Lebowski says, “My wife is not the issue here!”

A Bit on the Cinematography

Roger Deakins was the movie’s cinematographer, and he discussed the look of the film with the Coens before they started filming. They told Deakins that they wanted some parts to have a real and contemporary feeling, while other parts were to feel very stylized, like the dream sequences. Deakins later described the look of the fantasy scenes as crisp, monochromatic, and highly lit.

Roger Deakins, Joel, and Ethan Coen.
Source: cinephiliabeyond.tumblr.com

They were done in such a way to get more depth of focus. But, with The Dude’s apartment, Deakins noted how “it’s kind of seedy and the light’s pretty nasty” with the scene having a much grittier look. The bridge between those two looks was how he photographed the night scenes. Instead of using the usual blue moonlight look or the blue street lamp look, what he used was an orange sodium-light effect.

They Didn’t Want a Cliché 60s Look

In regards to the film’s look, the Coen brothers wanted to avoid the stereotypical retro 60s clichés like lava lamps, “Day-Glo” posters, and songs by the Grateful Dead. According to Joel, they wanted it to be “consistent with the whole bowling thing; we wanted to keep the movie pretty bright and poppy.” One example is the star theme that’s featured throughout the film. It started with the Production Designer Richard Heinrichs’ design for the bowling alley.

The Big Lebowski publicity still
Source: moviestillsdb.com, Copyright: Polygram Filmed Entertainment

According to Joel, Heinrich “came up with the idea of just laying free-form neon stars on top of it and doing a similar free-form star thing on the interior.” The star theme carried over to the dream sequences. Both dream sequences have star patterns.

Where Was Francis McDormand?

Coen bros fans know that they love to keep their favorite actors and actresses coming back for many of their films. And when it comes to familiar faces, The Big Lebowski might be the ultimate Coen ensemble film. John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, Jon Polito, and Peter Stormare are all major players. But one major player is missing: the Coens’ most frequent collaborator, Frances McDormand.

Frances McDormand, Joel Coen on the set of Fargo.
Photo by Working Title/Polygram/Kobal/Shutterstock

McDormand, for those who don’t know, has been married to Joel Coen since 1984. She’s had roles in eight of their movies. In 1997, she took home an Academy Award for her portrayal of Marge Gunderson in their other cult classic, Fargo. As for how the couple met, their first interaction was what you might expect: she auditioned for Blood Simple, the Coen brothers’ first film.