The Big Lebowski at 20: The tale of a rug

A look at the prop that not only ties the room together, but also tied the narrative together


The Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski turns 20 this month, but the cult classic wasn’t always as popular as it is now, garnering mixed reviews in 1998. A film that begins with a mistaken identity quickly becomes a complex, interwoven web of storylines that the protagonist Jeffery Lebowski, or The Dude as he prefers to be known, wants no part of yet finds impossible to escape. The reason for that is simple, his rug. First soiled then stolen, it not only tied the room together, but it also tied the narrative together.

And yet, what is going on in the front of the scene is often irrelevant. The kidnapping plot which we, the audience, feel should take centre stage is never fulfilled because of The Dude’s lack of ambition or motivation to pursue it. He would much rather go bowling with his friends Walter or Donnie and so the plot must come to him, but after each advancement of the story, each bit of new information that comes to light, The Dude continues his life as if nothing happened.

This is because he simply doesn’t care. He lives in a simple house, with no job, no goals and most importantly to him, no stress. However when his rug is stolen from him he is thrust into a complicated story that doesn’t really need him at all. Once he goes to find the real Jeffery Lebowski and takes one of his rugs in return, that should be the end of The Dude’s involvement in the film. His journey is complete and the ending is satisfactory, but nothing is ever that easy.

The rug’s role in the film is a MacGuffin. A plot device in the form of object or goal that our protagonist pursues with little narrative explanation. You see them often in crime or spy films. James Bond is always after some object, that if in the wrong hands would spell disaster. More often than not the audience doesn’t care about the object itself, but for the action it catalyses. The Dude wouldn’t go find Jeffery Lebowski if his rug wasn’t stolen, just like Bond wouldn’t fence with Madonna in Die Another Day if it wasn’t for the Icarus Satellite. Well, maybe he might.

“It just seemed interesting to us to thrust that character into the most confusing situations possible. The person it would seem on the face of it least equipped to deal with it. That’s sort of the conceit of the movie.” Ethan Coen is saying here that it’s not the situations themselves which hold value to the audience but how The Dude reacts to them, how he copes with this influx of stress that tries to steer his life off course.

Joel Coen said in that same interview how the film was loosely based on the works of American writer Raymond Chandler. Episodic in nature, Chandler’s detective novels follow the protagonist as he interacts with lots of characters on his way to solving the case. The Big Lebowski’s main narrative is very similar to this, although it has a staccato rhythm from jumping between fast-paced investigation and the relaxed everyday life of The Dude.

Coming back to the rug, it’s importance to The Dude stems from what the rug itself represents, it’s stability and comfort in his life. Without that presence, he finds it difficult to relax, to be The Dude. While we see him go bowling with Walter and Donnie several times we never actually see him bowl. The closest he comes is in his imagination laying on the floor of his house listening to a tape of the Venice Beach League Bowling Playoffs from 1987, shortly before his second rug gets stolen.

“This is when we figured if things are becoming a little bit uncomplicated of unclear it doesn’t really matter. This is similar to Chandler in that the plot is secondary to the other things that are going on. If people are getting confused it’s not necessarily going to get in the way of them enjoying the movie.”

It is ironic that The Big Lebowski, a film whose protagonist works so actively to leave behind no legacy, has one of the biggest in cinema. From an annual festival to a religion, there is surprisingly large following of fanatical fans, those who simply wish to abide by the same carefree lifestyle as The Dude.

2017 Film Challenge – May

Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.

May has been a bit of a slow month for movie watching sadly with only 15. We are now up to 142 though so well ahead of the pace needed to reach our target. A few low scoring months are to be expected but as we approach the summer I am sure we will jump greatly. In this post I will include a mini-review or comment about each film as I think a simple list is not as engaging as it could be.


Films Watched

  • Superbad (2007) – A cult classic featuring one of the earlier performances of Jonah Hill. Packed with awkward moments and laughs and more emotional depth than you would expect.
  • 12 Angry Men (1957) – This film is sublime from beginning to end. A must watch for any cinophile. An extended review can be found here.
  • Ice Age (2002) – I watched this film to relive those childhood memories and I was left disappointed. While certainly a feat of animation in 2002, it just didn’t hold up well, nor was there much depth to the narrative.
  • Wedding Crashers (2005) – The duo of Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson are my biggest guilty pleasures. The charisma each possesses makes every film they feature in worthy of watching. Wedding Crashers also includes great performances by Christopher Walken and a fledgling Bradley Cooper.
  • The Handmaiden (2016) – The best cinematic experience I have had in years. Sumptuously erotic and gripping from the first moment to the last. If you watch one film from this list make it this. To read a full review of this film click here!
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) – There is not much to be said about this one. Part of my yearly Harry Potter rewatch. There is a definite improvement in this film after Goblet of Fire but the series follows an overall downward trajectory after Prisoner of Azkaban.
  • The Hangover (2009) – Another guilty pleasure of mine is The Hangover series. On paper this should be a truly awful film but the great cast and jokes make it very entertaining.
  • Robots (2005) – This is one of my favourite childhood animated film that did not fair well at all with critics. It had a unique style of animation which is seen best during the Domino scene (see here). A thoroughly enjoyable film which I heartily recommend.
  • Airplane! (1980) – This is a film I have been putting off for too long for fear I would not enjoy it as much as I hoped. After taking the plunge I can say it was hilarious. Silly, but hilarious. Will definitely be rewatching this again and eventually reviewing it.
  • Spy Kids (2001) – Taking a train back to nostalgia town once again with Spy Kids. It is somehow even weirder than I imagined but still holds up with the practical and special effects not looking too bad given the age of the film.
  • The Big Lebowski (1998) x2 – This is in my top 3 films of all time and for good reason. Incredibly quotable, relentlessly funny and with great performances by John Goodman and Jeff Bridges. A review of this film will eventually be done so watch this space!
  • The Lego Batman Movie (2017) – Whilst undoubtably an entertaining film it couldn’t achieve the same as its predecessor. There are many great jokes at the expense of other superhero films but ultimately the hectic nature caused its downfall. Read my full review of it here!
  • Hancock (2008) – In the modern euro of superhero films Hancock stands out as one of the best. A brilliant take on immortality and the negative issues that it creates. The special effects still look great as well considering how far they have come in the past decade.
  • In the Loop (2009) As a big fan of the tv show ‘The Thick of It’ that this film is an extension of, I had high expectations. Unfortunately those expectations were not met. This is by no means a bad film, it just felt strained and some of the actors (who in the TV show are fantastic) produced lifeless performances.


Best Films of the Month:

  1. The Big Lebowski
  2. The Handmaiden
  3. 12 Angry Men
  4. Superbad
  5. Wedding Crashers

At some point, perhaps towards the new year, I will compile a list of my top 50, or 100 films. When I do, all of these will feature with each brilliant in their own right. The first three are simply works of art, every frame struck me as beautiful. The other two are just hilarious, continuously so.

Most Watched Films:

  1. The Big Lebowski (4)
  2. La La Land (3)
  3. Superbad (2)
  4. The Nice Guys (2)
  5. The Other Guys (2)

We now have a new leader in the form of ‘The Big Lebowski’. This is hardly surprising due to the incredible rewatchability of the film and I’m sure that by the end of the year it will have reached double figures, probably the only film to do so. Some films, like ‘The Handmaiden’ will be watched many more times, although there will be quite a wait for them to become available. All five of the films above are fantastic and are suitable for chill night in.


To check out the months you have missed, click one of the following links:

2017 Film Challenge – April

I’m a peacock, you gotta let me fly!

Welcome back for update four in the progress towards my film challenge. 25 more movies were watched this month taking us up to a grand total of 127, just over half of my target. This month’s entry will be longer than we have seen previously. As we progress through the year I aim to keep adding to the quality of this blog series to make it as interesting as possible. Enjoy!


Films Watched

  • Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
  • Suicide Squad (2016)
  • Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) x2
  • Catch Me If You Can (2002)
  • Italian Job (1969)
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
  • The Martian (2015)
  • Sing (2016)
  • 21 Jump Street (2012) x2
  • Busking Turf Wars (Lift-Off 2017 Feature)
  • 22 Jump Street (2014) x2
  • War Dogs (2016)
  • Secret Life of Pets (2016)
  • The Big Lebowski (1998)
  • Kung Fu Panda (2008)
  • Hell or High Water (2016)
  • The Incredibles (2004)
  • Megamind (2010)
  • Rounders (1998)
  • The Other Guys (2010) x2
  • Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (2017)
  • Boss Baby (2017)


After putting off watching Illumination Entertainments latest features ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ and ‘Sing’ for fear they would be as bad as I had heard, I finally forced myself to watch them. I don’t want to go into much detail about my reactions to those films, in case I decide to review them, but let’s just say that it took ‘Kung Fu Panda’, ‘The Incredibles’ and ‘Megamind’ to regain my faith in competent animation films. On the last day of the month I got around to another animation I was worried about, DreamWorks’ ‘Boss Baby’. Unfortunately no amount of nostalgic cleansing will help me get over the torture that was the film. To read my review of ‘Boss Baby’ and to learn why you should never watch it, click here.

Most Watched Films of the Year so far:

  1. La La Land (3)
  2. The Nice Guys (2)
  3. The Other Guys (2)
  4. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2)
  5. Tropic Thunder (2)

Now from the worst new film I have watched in a long time to the best new film I have watched in a long time. Whilst not cinema new, it was released in 2010, it is the first (and second!) time I have watched it. I’m talking about ‘The Other Guys’. Changing the buddy-cop genre with its satirical and self-mocking nature. This will definitely be a film you’ll see a review about soon, I cannot recommend it enough. Mark Wahlberg overemphasises his loud and aggressive attitude hilariously and his chemistry with Will Ferrell is simply electric.


We’ve looked at badly reviewed films being bad and well reviewed films being good, it’s time to look at the others. Let’s begin with a poorly reviewed movie that I adore, Ben Stiller’s ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’. With only 51% of Rotten Tomatoes, it doesn’t look like much. Thankfully I saw it in the theatre with my family and was exposed to one of the most beautiful cinematic experiences in recent times. A wonderful feel-good plot, combined with a great soundtrack and incredible cinematography make this perfect for lazy morning.

Worst Films of the Month:

  1. Boss Baby
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy 2
  3. The Secret Life of Pets
  4. Sing
  5. Suicide Squad

Lastly we have a film that saw fantastic reviews which I found incredibly disappointing, Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Being a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe the expectations were very high. Whilst this wasn’t an ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ level of disappointment, it wasn’t far off. I don’t want to go too much into it as my review did a pretty extensive job, nor do I suggest you don’t go to see it, just don’t expect the same level of story, depth or humour that was present in the first.


Best Films of the Month

  1. The Big Lebowski
  2. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
  3. The Other Guys
  4. Rounders
  5. Megamind

I won’t talk about numbers 1, 2 and 3 as I already have previously but number 4 is a film that has been on my radar for some time, Rounders. Stellar performances from both Jason Bou.. I mean Matt Damon and John Malkovich make this poker-based flick well worth a watch. A fun game to play whilst watching the film is ‘Guess the Accent’. Every scene in which Malkovich speaks you have to try and work out which Eastern European country his accent wanders into.


Lastly we have Megamind, an animation by the same director as Boss Baby. This may not sound encouraging but trust me you will not be left disgruntled. It features all-star cast of Brad Pitt, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, Ben Stiller, JK Simmons and more. The premise, that a constantly failing supervillian finally defeats and kills his superhero counterpart, is highly original and explores the lack of meaning in a life without challenge brilliantly. If you have a child who wants to go see Boss Baby, stay home and watch Megamind instead.

To check out the months you have missed, click one of the following links: