MUCH HAS ALREADY been written about Jeffrey Lebowski, the aging and potbellied bowler at the center of Minnesota natives the Coen Brother’s 1998 film The Big Lebowski. Critics have noted how Lebowski, called “The Dude” and limned by Jeff Bridges, is a cinematic stock character accidentally placed in the wrong type of film altogether: A sleepy eyed, perpetually stoned, aging hippie who accidentally finds himself cast as the private dick in a Raymond Chandler-styled crime film. Daniels’ “Dude” (or “Duder,” or “El Duderino,” if you’re not into the whole brevity thing) is a character singularly ill-prepared for his task: To track down a kidnapped adult actress for her wheelchair-bound and sharp-tongued business magnate of a husband. The Dude is lazy and incurious, only occasionally stumbling across clues by accident. More frequently, The Dude is bullied into action by his bowling partner, a loudmouthed and fatigue-clad Vietnam veteran named Walter Sobachak, portrayed with maximum bluster by John Goodman.
We will not concern ourselves with the preposterous series of turns the plot takes around The Dude — how, step by step, as Lebowski stumbles toward the truth, he loses each of his possessions. (His car, in particular, suffers at the hands of joyriding teenagers, maniacs with crowbars, and arson-minded nihilists.) Neither will we concern ourselves with the film's astounding variety of supporting characters, some of whom, despite their brief screen time, have had an entire industry spring up around their performances. John Turturro’s lizard-like, polyester clad Jesus Quintana, who now appears on any number of T-shirts, or David Thewlis’s pencil-mustached, giggling Knox Harrington, who has inspired, well, any number of video artists.
No. All of this has been covered in depth, as The Big Lebowski has inspired a fervent cult following and reams of critical writing. So we turn our attention elsewhere. The Dude has many fascinating facets to his character. We are fascinated by his drinking.
When we first meet The Dude, he is clad in an open bathrobe and jelly shoes, shambling through a Ralphs grocery store, opening and sniffing cartons of cream. He is, as we find out later, buying one of the three ingredients in his cocktail of choice, the White Russian. (The remaining two ingredients, vodka and Kahlua, are the only items he keeps in a wicker bar that forms his apartment’s centerpiece.) Lebowski will light a jay when he’s in a contemplative mood, but he is never without an alcoholic beverage — upon arriving anyplace new he will instantly search out the bar and mix himself his favorite cocktail, which he has affectionately nicknamed a “Caucasian”; his preference for White Russians is so pronounced that if he fails to find cream he will substitute powdered non-dairy creamer. In all, The Dude downs nine White Russians over the course of The Big Lebowski. College students who attempt to keep up with Lebowski’s pace as a drinking game risk alcohol poisoning. The Dude’s concern for his cocktail is such that, when seized by strangers and dragged into a waiting limousine, his first thought is to protect his drink. “Hey man,” he famously cries out, “there’s a beverage here!”
It should be pointed out that there are a few times in the film when The Dude forgoes a White Russian in favor of beer, seemingly as a precautionary gesture when he needs to have his wits around him. When Lebowski is driving, as an example, or when bowling. The Dude, it should be noted, has as close a relationship with his bartender as any filmic character. Gary, the film’s barman at Hollywood Star Lanes in Los Angeles, knows The Dude’s tastes so well that he will instantly provide a bottle of Miller Golden Draft when Lebowski demands an “oat soda.”
As a result, The Dude is perpetually stewed, to the point that a drugged drink simply impresses him (“You mix a hell of a Caucasian,” he declares before collapsing). “I’m adhering to a pretty strict, uh, drug, uh, regimen,” he explains distractedly to one of his employers, “to keep my mind, you know, uh, limber.” Of course, it isn’t working: The Dude can barely form a sentence, and often simply repeats, verbatim, dialogue he heard earlier in the film. His few attempts at detective work produce exactly one blank-faced teenager and one pornographic drawing, both dead ends. The Dude is not a great thinker, but, then, he never aspired to be. “All The Dude ever wanted was his rug back,” he complains, referring to a cheap piece of home decoration urinated on at the start of the film, and he isn’t even able to get that.
The Dude may be a failure as a detective, but we at The Bottle Gang celebrate him for being a great drinker. The White Russian, never one of the more popular cocktails, gained new notoriety after the film — the Intertube is littered with tales of young drinkers taking their first Caucasian after watching The Big Lebowski. In fact, Jeff Dowd, an amiable Sixties radical turned film consultant — and the inspiration for Jeff Bridges’ character — complained afterward that he hadn’t taken advantage of a Big Lebowski-inspired marketing scheme. “After the film came out I should have put my name on a premixed White Russian canned drink,” Dowd, who also goes by the nickname The Dude, told IFM Magazine.
Perhaps Dowd might have cleaned up on such a scheme, but its more fitting that he didn’t even attempt it; after all, The Big Lebowski is a document of missed opportunities. And, with each new travesty, The Dude’s best friend and nemesis Walter Sobachak has a solution: Fuck it, Dude. Let’s go bowling.
It’s a good solution. Gary’s on hand, and it is time for another Caucasian. (SPARBER)