The Dude ( Jeff Bridges) is a simple man, with simple tastes, living a simple life somewhere around LA. One day, a couple of thugs sent by the porn king Jackie Treehorn piss on The Dude's rug as a message when they come to collect money from Jeffrey Lebowski, only to discover that they accidentally hit the house of another Lebowski. This strange, mistaken encounter sets off a chain of events involving a ransom note, German nihilists, two Lebowskis and a porn king. The Dude tries to close the mysteries surrounding him so he can get back to his relatively peaceful life of bowling with his friend, the high-strung Vietnam veteran Walter Sobchak ( John Goodman) and Donny ( Steve Buscemi), as they prepare to go up against the sex offender Jesus Quintana ( John Turturro) and his bowling team.
Plot Summary: "Lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-yous." Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski is an aging former hippie living in Los Angeles. On the night of August 6, 1990, after purchasing some half and half from his local Ralphs, the Dude returns home to find two thugs in his house. After being assaulted, the thugs demand to know where the Dude's money is--claiming that the Jeffrey Lebowski's wife Bunny owes Jackie Treehorn money. One of the thugs even pees on the Dude's rug, which further aggravates the situation once the thugs realize they are in the wrong house--they're looking for a man who's supposed to be a millionaire and married. The pair leave the Dude dumbfounded on his toilet.
Two days later, the Dude is bowling with his two best friends; Walter Sobchak and Theodore Donald "Donny" Kerabatsos, and discussing the damage to his rug. Walter suggests finding the man the Dude was mistaken for, the "other" Jeffrey Lebowski--the millionaire. The next day, the Dude meets with the titular Big Lebowski and his assistant, Brandt, in the Big Lebowski's Pasadena mansion. After being rebuked of compensation by the Big Lebowski, who calls him a bum, the Dude convinces Brandt to part with any rug in the house. On his way out, the Dude meets the Big Lebowski's nymphomaniac trophy wife, Bunny. Lounging by the pool--which contains a passed out nihilist, Uli--Bunny offers to perform oral sex on the Dude for $1,000. The Dude leaves quietly, prepared to go find a cash machine.
Back at the bowling alley, the Dude's team is competing in a league game to determine who enters the next round robin. Walter arrives 20 minutes late accompanied by his ex-wife's dog, which he offered to babysit while his ex-wife and her boyfriend went to Honolulu. Walter becomes incensed when a member of the opposite team, Smokey, appears to step over the line. Walter pulls a gun on the lanes and threatens Smokey until he marks the frame a zero. After finishing the round, the Dude and Walter leave the bowling alley as the cops pull up.
The following morning at his condo, after ignoring several phone calls from Smokey, the SoCal bowling league and Brandt, the Dude is enjoying a caucasian and his new rug when he hears a knock at the door. His landlord, Marty, is thrilled that he obtained the venue he wanted for his dance quintet. He invites the Dude to attend and provide notes, also reminding him that it's already the 10th and that his rent was due on the first. Brandt leaves another message, assuring The Dude that they're not angry about the theft of the rug, but require The Dude's help. Returning to Pasadena, the Dude finds the Big Lebowski in seclusion in the west wing. Brandt reveals that they received a faxed ransom note this morning demanding $1 million in unmarked, non-consecutive twenties in exchange for Bunny's return. The Big Lebowski, believing the parties responsible could be the same ones responsible for defiling The Dude's rug, wants the Dude to act as courier once they receive instructions for the exchange. The Dude reluctantly agrees and is issued a pager and car phone to communicate with the criminals.
"Eight year olds, Dude."
Later on, after witnessing an impressive display of bowling prowess by their rival--convicted pederast Jesus Quintana--the Dude, Walter and Donnie discuss their individual theories behind the disappearance of Bunny. Walter believes that she kidnapped herself, becoming increasingly angry over the perceived injustice of modern society. That afternoon, while reclining on his new rug, the Dude is confronted by two men and a woman who knock him out and steal the rug. Awakening to the sound of the beeper, the Dude receives instructions for the meet. Walter insists on accompanying him to the handoff. Instructed to throw the money out of the moving car while crossing a bridge, Walter decides to substitute the real money with a ringer he brought filled with dirty underwear. After throwing the ringer from the car, Walter grabs the Uzi he brought, jumps out of the car and attempts to double back--beating Bunny's location out of the kidnappers. The plan goes awry, however, and the car crashes, the kidnappers leave with the ringer and Walter convinces the Dude to return to the bowling alley.
The Dude ignores the almost constant ringing of his phone, shocked over their failure to deliver the money. Walter is completely uninterested, still believing that Bunny kidnapped herself. He tries to reassure the Dude, reminding him of the $1 million sitting in the trunk of the Dude's car. Once they reach the parking lot, however, they find that the Dude's car has been stolen from its handicapped parking space. Completely dejected, the Dude walks home to make a police report. While informing a pair of LAPD officers about the theft, the Dude recieves a phone call from one Maude Lebowski, who claims responsibility for stealing the Dude's rug and requests to meet with him immediately.
Entering Maude's loft, he finds her painting nude from a harness attached to the ceiling. Revealing that she's the Big Lebowski's daughter, and that the rug she took back was a gift for her late mother. After querying the Dude's interest in sex, Maude shows the Dude a pornographic film starring Bunny and Uli and offers the Dude $100,000 if he can recover the $1 million from the kidnappers embezzling her father. Recommending a doctor--both a good man and thorough--for the Dude's injured jaw, Maude sends him on his way. Returning home, the Dude is confronted by the Big Lebowski and Brandt, who demand an explanation of the failed exchange. They present the Dude with an envelope received from the kidnappers, containing a severed toe--presumably Bunny's. Unnerved, the Dude meets with Walter at a local family restaurant to discuss the situation. Walter insists that there's no way to confirm that the toe is Bunny's, while the Dude remains despondent. Later that evening, the Dude is relaxing in his bathtub smoking a joint and listening to whale song. He receives a call on his answering machine from the LAPD letting him know that his car was recovered--before a trio of men break into the home and smash the answering machine. Entering the bathroom, one of the nihilist kidnappers throws a marmot into the bathtub with the Dude and threatens to cut off his penis unless they receive their money.
"What day is this?"
The next day, the Dude recovers his car from an impound lot. The briefcase is nowhere to be found, but the thieves left the tape deck and the Creedence. At the bowling alley, the Dude is deeply upset about the possibility of losing his johnson. Walter and Donny, sick of the Dude's increasing disinterest in the upcoming bowling tournament, leave to grab a lane. The Dude is left at the bar with a Stranger dressed in cowboy attire. After an uplifting conversation with the Stranger, the Dude receives a phone call from Maude demanding a second meeting. Returning to her loft, the Dude is met by Knox Harrington, an eccentic video artist and friend of Maude's. Following a brief confrontation, Maude enters and the Dude tries to tender his resignation--now firmly believing that Bunny really was kidnapped. Maude shares her knowledge of Uli Kunkel, the nihilist from the Big Lebowski's pool and Bunny's costar in the porno. She also orders the Dude to see the doctor she recommended, refusing to be held responsible for any delayed aftereffects.
On his way home from the doctor's thorough examination, the Dude notices that he's being followed by a blue Volkswagen Beetle. Forgetting that his window is up, the Dude tries to throw a lit joint out the window and ends up burning himself, crashing his car into a dumpster. Uninjured, the Beetle is nowhere to be seen. The Dude does notice a piece of paper lodged in the driver's seat, which turns out to be the homework of one Larry Sellers. Meeting with Donny and Walter at Marty's dance performance, Walter succeeds in locating Sellers, the son of Arthur Digby Sellers, a television writer who wrote the bulk of the 1960's western "Branded." The group plan to brace the kid that night and get back the $1 million.
Pulling up to the house, the group finds a brand new Corvette parked outside. Firmly believing the car is Sellers', Walter and the Dude enter the home to speak with Larry. With Arthur Digby lying in an iron lung at the back of the living room, the pair confront Larry with the homework. Stonewalled, Walter's anger gets the best of him and he heads outside, grabbing a crowbar from the Dude's car and smashing the Corvette. As he screams obscenities at full volume, Larry's neighbor rushes into the street and tries to restrain Walter--the Corvette did not belong to Larry after all. Taking his revenge on the Dude's car, the angry neighbor smashes the Dude's windshield and headlights.
Back at home, the Dude reassures Walter over the phone that he's still on the bowling team. Treehorn's thugs return and demand that the Dude accompany them to the porn mogul's Malibu estate, where Treehorn is holding a garden party. After discussing Treehorn's philosophy on the future of pornography, Treehorn demands to know Bunny's location and the whereabouts of the money he's owed. Treehorn offers the Dude $5,000 to help him locate the money, after which the Dude tells Treehorn about Larry Sellers. Treehorn, believing the Dude is toying with him, drugs his White Russian and the Dude passes out. In a surreal dream sequence, the Dude and Maude star in their own pornographic film, "Gutterballs" featuring an elaborate dance number. Waking up wandering the streets of Malibu, the Dude is arrested and brought to the Malibu Chief of Police. Following a violent confrontation involving a coffee mug, the Dude is ordered to stay out of Malibu. After being thrown out of his cab because of his complaints about the Eagles, Bunny zooms past the Dude in a convertible, all ten toes intact.
The Dude returns home to find his condo ransacked and Maude Lebowski waiting for him, clad only in his robe. After the two make love, Maude reveals that her desire all along was to have a child--something the Dude is horrified to learn. Maintaining that she doesn't desire a companion or a partner, the Dude begins to put the pieces of the puzzle together, confronting the owner of the blue Beetle out in the street, who turns out to be a private investigator hired by Bunny Lebowski's parents. Apparently, Bunny ran away from the family farm in Moorhead, MN a year ago. Returning to the Big Lebowski's mansion with Walter, the pair find that Bunny has returned, claiming she went to Palm Springs with friends and didn't tell anyone. Confronting the Big Lebowski, the Dude reveals his belief that there never was any money in the briefcase and that the Big Lebowski, growing tired of Bunny's attitude and requiring funds to maintain his opulent appearance, concocted the kidnapping scheme to allow some money to disappear. Leaving the Big Lebowski humiliated after Walter lifts him out of his wheelchair, believing he masquerades as a paraplegic, the group returns to the bowling alley.
"The brain is the biggest erogenous zone."
Following a game and a final confrontation with Quintana, Walter, Donny and the Dude are confronted by the nihilists outside the bowling alley. Having already set the Dude's car on fire, the nihilists demand reimbursement for the trouble they went through--including cutting off Uli's girlfriend's toe. The nihilists agree to accept whatever money the three have on them and call it even, but Walter refuses to relinquish what is his. Uli pulls a sword and a melee begins, with Walter biting off Uli's ear and knocking him out after throwing his bowling ball at another nihilist's chest. He knocks out the final nihilist using a boom box, but discovers that Donny is on the ground--apparently suffering from a heart attack. The Dude rushes to call an ambulance, but it's too late.
Later on at the funeral home, the Dude and Walter attempt to negotiate for the internment of Donny's ashes. Incensed at the cost of even the most modestly-priced receptacle, the pair leaves with Donny's ashes in a coffee can. Venturing to the coast to scatter Donny's ashes, the wind picks up and the Dude and Walter find themselves caked with Donny's remains. Frustrated with Walter's constant travesties, but united in their grief, the Dude accompanies Walter back to the bowling alley. In a final conversation with the Stranger, the Dude pledges to maintain his outlook and attitude. Breaking the fourth wall, the Stranger addresses the audience and expresses his admiration for the Dude--even if he didn't like seeing Donny go. Then again, he happens to know that there's a little Lebowski on the way and leaves the story with an order for another good Sarsaparilla.
Origins and Screenwriting: "Sometimes there’s a man…"
The film was heavily influenced by the work of author Raymond Chandler, incorporating aspects of his storylines to create a certain narrative structure. Setting the film in Los Angeles was essential to achieve the effect of a modern Chandler tale.
The screenplay was written around the same time as Barton Fink, but both John Goodman and Jeff Bridges were unavailable. The Coens decided to shoot Fargo first, to massive critical acclaim.
The Dude was based on two people from the lives of the Coen brothers. Jeff "The Dude" Dowd met the Coen brothers at Sundance when he arranged for the distribution of their first film, Blood Simple . Dowd was a member of the Seattle Seven, a regular bowler and enjoyed White Russians. Jeff Bridges modeled much of his physical mannerisms and voice after his time spent with Dowd. While some of the wardrobe used in the movie belonged to Bridges, the costumes provided by the staff were based on the clothing worn by Dowd.
The second major influence for the Dude was USC film professor Peter Exline. A longtime friend of the Coen brothers, Exline would constantly mention how the new rug he bought "really tied the room together." Exline also had his car stolen by the 12-year-old son of a famous Hollywood screenwriter and met with the boy's family along with "Big" Lew Abernathy, one of the inspirations for Walter Sobchak.
Abernathy, a former private investigator, treasure hunter, screenwriter and actor--appearing most notably in James Cameron's Titanic--accompanied his friend Peter Exline to interrogate a teenager whose homework the pair had found in Exline's stolen car. Abernathy attended USC and worked nights as a private investigator to pay his way through school. He met Exline when the latter was a studio executive at Universal Pictures. Exline and Abernathy really encountered an aging, infirm television writer who turned out to be the father of one of the teenagers who stole Exline's car.
Abernathy also attended a funeral for a fellow USC student who was killed in a motorcycle accident. While his ashes weren't in a coffee can, but a plastic baggie, the dead student's friends tried to scatter the ashes into the ocean and had it blow back on everyone. During his career as a private investigator, Abernathy was summoned to the large mansion of a rich couple engaged in a marital dispute. The butler told Abernathy that the owner of the house was in the back, "in seclusion." Once Abernathy entered the room, he found a middle-aged woman hanging completely naked from a bungee cord, painting on a canvas.
Another influence for Walter's character was famous Hollywood director John Milius. Walter shares Milius' right-wing, militant attitude and predilection for firearms. He's a bit dangerous and not entirely housebroken.
Pre-production: "We’ll brace the kid, should be a pushover."
Having achieved major critical success with Fargo, the Coen brothers found The Big Lebowski backed by both Working Title Films and Polygram, to the tune of $15 million. In addition to casting Bridges and Goodman, the Coen brothers wrote parts in the script with actors they had worked with previously in mind— Steve Buscemi, John Turturro and Peter Stormare.
The Coens wanted to capture a retro feel with the production design, resulting in the many old-fashioned object s littered throughout the film. The neon star motif that carries over from the bowling alley into the Dude’s dream sequences was inspired by Richard Heinrich’s modifications to the exterior of Hollywood Star Lanes, where the bowling alley scenes were shot.
Production: "What’s this day of rest shit?"
Filming took place over 11 weeks in and around the Los Angeles area. The exterior of the Dude’s bungalow was a genuine private residence in Venice, CA—while the interior was shot on a stage in West Hollywood. The Graystone Mansion, a Beverly Hills landmark that had previously been used as Wayne Manor in Batman & Robin served as the interior of the Big Lebowski’s Pasadena mansion. Jackie Treehorn, the porn magnate, is depicted as living in the Sheats Goldstein Residence, a famous example of Organic Architecture in the Hollywood Hills—not Malibu as depicted in the film.
Many of the cast members only spent a short amount of time on the production. Julianne Moore shot for two weeks, both at the beginning of the production and near the end. Sam Elliot was on-set for only two days.
Reception & Legacy: "...and proud we are of all of them."
In the years since its 1998 premiere, The Big Lebowski has become a modern cult classic. Spawning an annual festival, Lebowskifest, that’s taken place since 2002, Lebowski fans worldwide identify themselves as Achievers. Begun in Louisville, KY, Lebowskifest has expanded across the United States and attracts hundreds of fans, celebrities and personalities every year.
The film has appeared on a number of best-of lists since its release, including being ranked 8 on Entertainment Weekly’s “Funniest Movies of the Past 25 Years” list and number 10 on the Los Angeles Times’ list of the best films set in Los Angeles during the last 25 years. The Dude was ranked the seventh greatest film character of all time by Empire magazine, while Walter ranked 49 on the same list.