Jeff Bridges is a hugely respected actor that has no less than 6 Oscar nominations to his name – with one win for his turn in Crazy Heart in 2010. It should be noted that all of these nominations came from dramatic roles and that he’s actually hugely under appreciated in his ability to do comedy. Leave it then to the Coen brothers to tap into that comedic gift and provide him with his most hilarious (and now most iconic) role as Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski in their 1998 cult classic The Big Lebowski.
There’s a lot of facets to The Dude, man. “A lot of ins, a lot of outs”. To put it simply, though, he’s a lazy, grass smoking hippie who’s partial to drinking White Russians, going bowling and having the occasional acid flashback. The Dude likes to take life easy for all us sinners but when his house is broken into by a couple of thugs who stick his head in a toilet bowl, demand money from him and then proceed to piss on his rug (which “really tied the room together”) it sets forth a chain of complex events.
The Dude is not an unintelligent man but he most certainly lives a simple life under the constant influence of cannabis which can make him seem aloof and a bit slow on the catch-up. It’s this absent mindedness that Bridges captures to absolute perfection.
Throughout the film, it can be easy to be swayed by the louder and more flamboyant and colourful side characters but when all is said and done, it’s Bridges that’s the films essential core. He’s required to convince you that he’s not fully comprehending the narrative events. When you look at Bridges – and consider the complexities of the plot – every pause, every stammer and every perplexed look is a masterclass of comedic subtlety and you can genuinely empathise with his bewilderment. This is a character that will greatly appeal to those that understand the joys of cannabis and Bridges’ performance couldn’t be more in tune as to the effects of the drug.
Apparently the role was written with Jeff Bridges in mind and it’s absolutely perfect casting. With the help of the Coens’ sublime writing, Bridges concocts a cinematic icon and despite being such a diverse actor, it’s the role he has now become most synonymous with. He immediately identified with the character, so much so, that he questioned whether the Coens had actually followed him around high school. He let himself go physically, to achieve the layabout look, and would wear his own clothes throughout the film.
Bridges has been so effective in the role that The Dude has become a bit of a worldwide phenomenon. The film has spawned a festival known as Lebowski Fest which is held every year and the character has birthed a religion, known as Dudeism, which is largely devoted to spreading the philosophy and lifestyle of the film’s main character. It was founded in 2005 and is also known as The Church of the Latter-Day Dude, an organisation that has ordained over 350,000 “Dudeist Priests” all over the world via its website.
If that’s not enough, in 2006, two species of African spider were named after the film and character: Anelosimus biglebowski and Anelosimus dude.
Few characters have ever had as much of an impact in popular culture and that’s the beauty and complexity of The Big Lebowski. It isn’t really about plot. It’s about character and that character is predominantly The Dude. And Jeff Bridges is the embodiment of that casualness that runs deep.
Oscars? – Absolutely nothing. Neither the film nor any of the actors were even sniffed at come Oscar time. Maybe it’s because it came off the back of the Coens’ Oscar winning Fargo or maybe it’s because The Big Lebowski was ahead of its time and the Academy didn’t quite know what hit them. They are known for failing to recognise comedy. Either way, time has proven that Bridges has rarely been better and his work here deserved at least a nomination.
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