Big Lebowski question

Last night I finally got around to seeing “The Big Lebowski”. It didn’t blow me away right off the bat like “Fargo” or “O Brother, Where Art Thou” but I did enjoy it quite a bit. And I’m still thinking about it, 24 hours later.

But who really did end up with the million dollars? Did Lebowski never put it in the suitcase to begin with, and end up keeping it that way? Or did the kid who was failing social studies and whose dad is now in the iron lung but formerly wrote episodes of “Branded” actually get the money?

And why did the cowboy get shoehorned into the movie? It seemed to me that it could have stood up as well, if not better, without him. Or did he have a more symbolic role that I am failing to grasp?

As I interpret it:

  1. There was never any money. The suitcase was filled with old telephone directories, as you may recall. Lebowski’s plan was to blame The Dude for the theft of the money, so that the gangster/loan shark/porn king would go after The Dude rather than Lebowski; however, he also knew that the kidnap was a fake, so he wasn’t risking anything by not putting any money in the suitcase.

  2. The cowboy has two functions. Right at the beginning, he provides a suitably deceptive setup; we think the movie is going to have a Western setting and theme, then there’s the slow pan (or track, or whatever it is) to the city. And he also provides the stimulus for The Dude at the crisis of the movie - there aren’t really any other characters who could do it without disturbing the plot.

Who ultimately got the money?

The Dude explains to Walter (on the Sabbath) that The Big Lebowski used Bunny’s apparent kidnapping as cover for him to take the million himself while supposedly getting rid of her too. As The Dude said, “we threw out a ringer for a ringer.” The old man basically admitted as much when The Dude confronted him about it, since his word would hold up against someone who “the square community wouldn’t give a shit about.”


If Larry Sellers got the money when he stole The Dude’s car, the Big Lebowski would have probably not have been even remotely as smug when they confronted him. Assuming Maude’s story was true, he needed that money and wouldn’t have written it off so easily. The nihilists sure didn’t get it, otherwise they wouldn’t have tried to mug The Dude at the end.


I wonder if Maude gave him the $100K? If he really did figure out the whole scheme at the end, it seems to me that he should have gotten the reward.

But then was Lebowski’s artist daughter in on it? And if so, why? She seemed to think that her dad had stolen money from the foundation.

It’ll do that to you; it’s subversive. If you want a real kick, watch it some night as a double feature with The Big Sleep and try to spot all the parallels (and not-so-parallels). Brilliant, brilliant parody of noir detective fiction.

Mr. Lebowski took it out under the guise of paying ransom for his supposedly-kidnapped wife (Bunny), but gave The Dude a Ringer. Then Walter replaced the Ringer with his dirty undies. Jackie Treehorn had The Dude picked up in order to search his place in order to get back the money owed by Bunny. The Dude was just a patsy all along.

The Stranger was just the stock narrative device let loose; I think the Coens were just making fun of narrators who have all the answers and spoil the story elements by having a narrator who was totally clueless and who rambled on without any real coherence. See the vastly underpromoted Kiss Kiss Bang Bang for a similar vein.

What I’m not clear on is what Jon Polito’s detective (the guy in the Volkswagon) was up to. I mean, how hard could it have been to find his target, and why the heck was he chasing around The Dude? Very stranger; clearly the Coen’s just wanted some kind of in-joke relating to Blood Simple.

Another great performance by John Turturro, by the way, and I used to work with a guy who looked, talked, and acted like John Goodman’s character, so if there’d been nothing else that would have made the film for me. Great film.

“The Chinaman is not the issue here, Dude. I’m talking about drawing a line in the sand, dude. Across this line, you DO NOT… Also, Dude, Chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature. Asian-American, please.”


There was a million dollars missing, otherwise Maude wouldn’t have been involved. She was essentially the real “Big Lebowski,” and would have checked to see if her dad really did take the money from the charity fund.

And the phone book scene was plausible, but between his evil cackling and the ominous flashes of lightning, that made it seem like something The Dude just imagined. The briefcase WAS a fake, though, so I suppose it doesn’t matter whether or not it actually happened like that.

I always thought he was there just to add to the surrealism. What did he do for The Dude, specifically? I missed that.

On preview:

Qadgop, I always thought of Maude as the straight (wo)man in the movie, since she only got involved to get the money back to the foundation (the thugs and the carpet, and the whole conceiving a child thing notwithstanding).

Also, Stranger, when DeFino explains Bunny’s past, the colors of her cheerleading uniform are actually the very same as the school colors of Moorhead High. I grew up in Fargo (right across the river from Moorhead), and “Knutson” is a pretty common name from that area too. It was a nice reference to Fargo, but it seems that they could have brought that up without sidetracking the movie like they did.

Yes, it’s insidiously clever and very, very funny. It’ll stick with you for a looooong time. John Goodman and Jeff Bridges both should’ve won Oscars (nice early appearance by Philip Seymour Hoffman, too). But you’re all overthinking it.

My favorite line (paraphrased): “Hey, watch it, you guys, OK? I’m holding a beverage here!” - The Dude, as he’s hustled into yet another car

“Hey, there’s a beverage here!”

Watch it again in a month Qadgop. I think most will agree that this one grows on you. Often those who start out mildly liking it end up absolutely loving it on after a replay or two. I certainly fell in that category.

  • Tamerlane

Yes, but whatever you do don’t watch it on basic cable!

This is what happens when you find a stranger in the alps!

I kick you! I kick you in the ass!

I always thought that The Big Lebowski thought that bunny really had been kidnapped and hoped they’d kill her, because he was sick of her by now. He took the million out of the bank, gave the Dude the phonebooks, and planned to claim he’d paid the money and the Dude must have bungled the drop resulting in Bunny’s death, he could keep the money and the straight community wouldn’t care what happened to the Dude.

those Coen brothers don’t they know this isn’t vietnam, there are rules, am I wrong? am I wrong!

I LOVE the scene during their first meeting when Lebowski lays into the Dude and he puts on his sunglasses, it’s like, man I need my shades for this speech.

Well, “dude” is after all a cowboy term. In a way I think the movie is saying that hippie individualism, at least as exemplified by the Dude, is an inheritor of the American cowboy tradition. It’s an interesting parallel. I agree it’s sort of jarring, since the main thrust of the movie is to comment on the detective genre, and it feels like it’s drawing in a second genre (the Western) out of the blue. But I like that they draw all three motifs - cowboy, noir detective and hippie - together. All three are uniquely American and yet profoundly countercultural and to varying degrees anticapitalist symbols.

Yeah, this is a movie that I started off feeling lukewarm about too and ended up being my favorite Coen brothers film. Each time I’ve seen it I’ve appreciated it more. The same happened with Intolerable Cruelty, which I intially thought was fluff.

Another film to do this with is Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye. It too is very much a parody of the genre, and the Coens seemed to draw a lot of inspiration from it.

This is so true of this movie. I had the same experience.

As long as we’re talking about The Big Lebowski, there’s always been a part that took me out of the moment and bothered me:

After the Dude has his moment of clarity while talking to Maude, he runs to the phone to call Walter. While the phone is ringing, the Dude is saying:
“Pick up the phone, Walter… Walter, pick up the fucking phone!” and then Walter answers. The Dude says he needs help and threatens to quit the bowling team if Walter doesn’t come over.

The next scene is the Dude and Walter in the car. Walter says he can’t even answer the phone on the Sabbath unless it’s an emergency. The Dude says “this is an emergency” and Walter says “I know, that’s why I answered the phone.”

But how did Walter know it was an emergency prior to answering the phone? I always assumed the Dude was supposed to be shouting into an answering machine, except that the sound people screwed up and put a ringing phone effect into the film instead.

Am I wrong here or am I missing something?

It may not mean anything. Or it might mean that Walter decided nobody who knew him (knowing his religious beliefs) would call him unless it was an emergency. Walter’s allowed to break the Sabbath-related commandments if it’s a real emergency, and I think that’s what he and the Dude are discussing at the time.

That’s probably it. Most Orthodox people I know keep their phones working on Saturday, under the assumption that any call would have to be urgent.

I guess I could accept that although it’d seem to mean that, in the States anyway and especially in the early 90’s, you’d be getting about 575 telemarketer calls for every actual emergency.

Why do you think Walter is so angry all the time? :smiley:
I don’t know what the telemarketing situation was like at that time, but I figured Walter didn’t get a lot of calls from anybody.