When I saw The Big Lebowski in 1998, I loved it. But I had no idea it would become a cultural icon that would spawn its own subculture of devotees. I just thought it was clever, funny, and intriguingly strange.
The movie, among other things, has inspired several books. The latest is The Year’s Work in Lebowski Studies , a group of essays by academics edited by two college English professors (who else?), Edward P. Comentale and Aaron Jaffe (Indiana University Press, 512 pp., $24.94, paper).
The book contains the work of 21 “fans and scholars.” It deals with topics such as the film’s influences (westerns, noir, grail legends, the 1960s, and Fluxus) and its themes, which include the first Iraq war, boomers, slackerdom, surrealism, college culture, and bowling.
Here’s my brief review, which appeared in the April/May 1998 issue of The VVA Veteran .
Big John Goodman (Roseanne’s TV hubby) plays Walter, a big-hearted, big-mouthed Vietnam veteran in the Coen brothers’ cartoonish black comedy The Big Lebowski, which opened in the multiplexes early in March. Walter constantly prattles on about his war days. It’s the early nineties, yet he goes around wearing jungle boots, cut-off fatigue shorts and dog tags. Walter’s also got a wicked temper, and is not hesitant to brandish a firearm or resort to physical violence.
Okay, Walter is another cinematic Nam vet nutcase. Still, the movie is played for laughs, and Walter is pretty damn funny. And how can you get upset with a guy who confronts a transgressing fellow bowler by bellowing: “This is not Vietnam, this is bowling. There are rules!”