Photos courtesy of Polygram Filmed Entertainment, Working Title Films
In the cult film “The Big Lebowski,” bowling buddies Jeff Bridges and John Goodman resort to extreme measures to be paid back for a ruined rug.
I first encountered “The Big Lebowski” on a VHS tape. My mom mailed it to me at college, and I watched it from the bottom bunk in my dorm, on one of those convenient TV/VCR combos. The first time you see it, you find it funny, but, as is often the case with the Coen Brothers, it got funnier with repeated viewings. I realize I am far from the only person who feels that way about the movie, but over the years, a connection to my father, who died five years ago this month, has deepened the significance of this profane and absurd cult film.
The first thing that struck me was the physical resemblance between Jeff Bridges as The Dude and my dad; same sandy-colored, longish hair, same build, same shuffle. Dad said “far out” and “right on.” I called my sister and “it’s dad!” was the obvious conclusion. We already knew that the fictional character and our actual dad shared an enthusiasm for Mother Nature’s most relaxing plant. One of my fondest memories of him is when he explained to me what The Dude meant when he called the other Lebowski a “human paraquat.” But imagine my delight when I was old enough to go to a bar with him and he ordered a White Russian, the preferred beverage of The Dude.
Like The Dude, dad was at times a roadie, never specifically for Metallica, and they both shared a disorganized passion for progressive values that had settled into more of a vibe at this point in their storied lives. Remember, The Dude was one of the Seattle Seven, an anti-Vietnam group, and the actual inspiration for the character, Jeff O’Dowd, was too. My dad also made many personal sacrifices in protest of the Vietnam War, but by this point in his life, dad’s acts of protest were closer to that scene where The Dude won’t stop touching the Big Lebowski’s various framed mementos. He had this casual and friendly refusal to do what he was told. Both dudes might have seemed mellow, but they would not budge if they didn’t want to.
And then dad’s car got stolen. At this point, we had all seen the movie dozens of times, and, like so many other people, the dialogue made its way into many of our conversations. So when he called to tell me his trusty van (and here I realize the vehicle types diverge) had been stolen, I was ready. I asked him if the police thought they would catch the guys, and we agreed they had “the boys down at the crime lab… working in shifts.” But we didn’t hold out much hope for the tape deck. Or the Creedence.
Now fellow Lebowski fans, please stay tuned as I am pleased to inform you that the van was recovered. The police found a bunch of kids doing donuts in the stolen van in a field by a church. So it appeared to have been a joy ride situation.
The actor Jeff Bridges will always hold a special place in my heart, and it certainly seems that this movie holds a place in his, too. His older face in the 2016 film “Hell or High Water” is now a closer approximation to my dad’s, so similar in a few scenes that it’s uncanny. In that film, Jeff Bridges brought a blanket from The Dude’s bed for his character to use. In the scene I am thinking of, he is wrapped in it as he watches the sun rise, and his face in profile makes me feel like I’ve seen a ghost.
Slightly shaggy men in their 60s wearing shorts and button-up, short-sleeved shirts is not a rare sight in this town, but as much as my heart might catch when I see one out of the corner of my eye, none of these nice guys are my dad. The Dude is not my dad either, but I do have a Dude Christmas card from dad, with a line drawing Jeff Bridges made, proclaiming “The Dude wants peace & love.” “The Big Lebowski” is easy to love and rewarding to obsess over, but for me, it’s more than just a fun movie to quote; it’s a comforting memory generator, and when I watch it, if I squint, I can kind of see my dad again.
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