Tag: Joel Coen

Movie Review: The Big Lebowski (1998)

Posted December 20, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Movie-Comedy, Movie-Neo-Noir / 0 Comments

Title: The Big Lebowski
Released: 1998
Joel CoenEthan Coen
StarsJeff BridgesJohn GoodmanJulianne MooreSteve BuscemiDavid HuddlestonTara Reid and Philip Seymour Hoffman
Genre: Neo-Noir/Black Comedy

One of my favourite movies of all time is the Coen Brothers 1998 black comedy The Big Lebowski. Most people have seen this film, but if you have not, it tells the story of Jeffrey ‘The Dude’ Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), an LA slacker who finds himself being mistaken for millionaire Jeffrey Lebowski (David Huddleston). Thugs break into his house demanding money and urinate on his rug before leaving. Since the rug “really tied the room together” The Dude confronts the millionaire Lebowski seeking compensation. This leads to events that have The Dude searching for Jeffrey Lebowski’s kidnapped wife Bunny (Tara Reid).

This is a complex story to try explain, I did not even mention The Dude’s friends Walter (John Goodman), a unpredictable Vietnam veteran and Timid Donny (Steve Buscemi). Not to mention Jeffery Lebowski’s personal assistant Brandt, played by the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman. There is a lot going on within the film and so much of this is worth talking about. I was drawn to The Big Lebowski at a young age for its humour and quotable lines, but now I see the movie in a completely different light.


The Big Lebowski is loosely based on The Big Sleep, a great film noir movie which is in turn based on the Raymond Chandler novel with the same name. In a 1998 interview with Indiewire, Joel Coen said, “We wanted to do a Chandler kind of story – how it moves episodically, and deals with the characters trying to unravel a mystery, as well as having a hopelessly complex plot that’s ultimately unimportant.” I know there are even scenes that pay homage to The Big Sleep (which starred Humphrey Bogart) found in this film but I need to do a rewatch of the classic film to compare. However there are also references to the Disney movie Alice in Wonderland in the movie.

First of all, both The Dude and Alice has similar carefree lives, and they both take a drug that makes them smaller. The similarities do not stop there, Jeffery Lebowski wife’s name is Bunny and the numberplate on her car reads ‘Lapin’ which is the French word for rabbit. You could even compare Walter and Donny to The Walrus and the Carpenter, maybe Maude Lebowski is The Red Queen and Jackie Treehorn is The Mad Hatter, you probably can go on and on making comparisons to the two movies.

However the comparison to The Big Sleep is what interests me the most. Despite the comedy and the colourful aesthetic, The Big Lebowski pays homage to film noir in multiple occasions. The movie makes multiple references to tropes often found in film noir, such as a fall guy, a double cross, a ringer and so on. Do I even have to mention the fact that this film is even set in Los Angeles? Film noir was the result of America’s post-war (World War II) affection for morbid drama, having The Big Lebowski set in post-gulf war time as a similar effect; although America’s involvements in the Middle East were far from over.

Interestingly enough The Big Lebowski was a commercial failure, it only become a cult classic after 9/11. I do believe that the anti-war messages found in this film might have something to do with this. Especially the rants that Walter says about defending his country and what it means to be a Vietnam veteran. This film talks a lot about war almost predicting the state America would be in with their involvement in the Middle East. Something about the way deals with this real issue and the humour seems to speak to fans.

war - the big lewbowski

This movie even sparked its own religion, Dudeism, which is actually a registered religion in America; the official name is The Church of the Latter-Day Dude. It is a modern day interpretation of Taoism based on the philosopher of The Dude. Though considered more of a philosophical and lifestyle movement about going with the flow, or remaining cool headed. Rewatching The Big Lebowski reminded me why I love this movie, plus gave me a whole new appreciation for this cult classic.

Movie Review: A Serious Man (2009)

Posted December 13, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Movie-Comedy / 0 Comments

a serious manTitle: A Serious Man
Released: 2009
Joel CoenEthan Coen
StarsMichael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind and Fred Melamed
Genre: Black Comedy

I have been a fan of the Coen brothers for a long time (Miller’s Crossing and The Big Lebowski probably sit on my favourites list). Joel and Ethan Coen know how to tell an interesting story and I especially enjoy their dark humour. One of their weirdest films is A Serious Man starring Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind and Fred Melamed. The film tells the story of Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a physics professor on the verge of possibly losing everything.

This is the type of movie that even the critics were calling “Enigmatic to the point of inscrutability” (Slate.com). One possible analysis of the film compares it to the book of Job in the Bible. While the Coen brothers deny the connection it is not hard to see. The viewers are introduced to Larry as a successful man living the great American dream in 1960s Midwestern suburb. Much like Job, Larry’s faith is challenged as things start to fall apart, starting with his wife wanting a divorce to the possibility of losing his job security. At the end of the book of Job, God talks to Job in the form of a whirlwind, while A Serious Man ends in a tornado.

In the book of Job, he seeks out the advice from three friends Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, while Larry seeks out help from three rabbis. Larry wanted answers to a question that he asks multiple times throughout the film, “What’s going on?” A question that might seem stupid, but it could also be reflective, philosophical or even theological. The three rabbis all give completely different answers to his question. It is either God’s will,  answering the question in the form of a riddle suggests even the rabbi is seeking he same answer or refusing to see him completely, proposes that the question will always go unanswered.

a serious man lead

Much like the book of Job, each different situation in A Serious Man seems to compound and unfold into each other in such a way to make Larry’s life feel like it is falling apart. Larry is constantly trying to seek out the answers to life and found out what he might have done to deserve all of this. Although it is pretty clear to the audience that it is Larry’s inactions that have caused the majority of problems. However there is still space in the movie to allow for the reflection on life’s big question; what is going on?

It is possible that the Coen brothers are trying to portray the usefulness (or lack of) of religion in the modern age. There is also the likelihood that the movie thinks that life is meaningless and trying to understand the world around you only leads to more confusion. No matter what your perspective of A Serious Man is, it will leave you with more questions than answers. The first time you watched that ending, I am sure you were asking yourself the very same question, “What is going on?”