Scene Analysis – The Big Lebowski free essay sample
The Big Lebowski (1998) by the Coen Brothers is no doubt a comedy film about friendships between three bowling buddies with differing personalities who met and stuck together as friends by choice in Los Angeles when the U.S. army invaded the Middle East. The Coen Brothers managed to capture the spirit of friendship bonding, conflicts, characters’ internal struggles as well as personal desires with exceptional cinematography and mise-en-scene through a plot that went from western to Film Noir. There is a cleverly placed contrast between violence, kidnapping, femme fatales and other dark elements that do not really go with the sunny, carefree impression of L.A. where the story is set in.
Such metaphorically structured contrasts along with well-constructed dialogues between three characters from varying backgrounds bring out the contradictory nature of how the Dude (Jeff Bridges), a bearded, unemployed long-haired hippie who did not care much about this world that lived in a dressing gown met his two best friends Walter Sobchak (John Goodman), a Vietnam vet who could not move on from the war period and Donny Kerabatsos (Steve Buscemi), a bland character that got ignored most of the time, who all lived with the shadow of intergeneration give-and-take hovering yet still managed to stay committed to their friendships even when they have their own burdens to deal with in life.
The ending scene of The Big Lebowski where the Dude and Walter scattered Donny’s ashes pleasantly reflected what seems to be delicate but actually strong bonds of relationships between the three main characters.
The ending scene starts with a long shot of the Dude and Walter’s back view walking from the foreground to the middle ground on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The way how the directors placed the two actors to walk a route in the middle of the screen with Walter leading the way in heavy posture, carrying Donny’s ashes in a milk-powder can implies that every human being alive are in line to face their own fate sooner or later. We can tell the characters made an effort to show respect, with the Dude’s costume smartened up slightly and the yellow-colored shirt freshen up the ending scene. The change of costume also implies that this is a scene representing changes and a new phase in both of the characters’ lives.
The clip is then edited to an extreme long shot of Walter and the Dude standing still on the cliff with green grass closer to the camera and the blue Pacific Ocean in the background that the characters are looking at.
As an ending scene, the director thoughtfully balanced the mood by including lively features such as light brown swaying hay-like plants in the foreground to soothe the audience, green fields between rocks in the middle ground representing the unchanging physics elements in the universe while contrasting the entirely changed lives that both characters were going through and showed the overwhelming heavy emotions that the characters were feeling via the way they faced the enormous blue-colored background. The fact that Walter and the Dude stood still on the cliff with slightly moving background and foreground implies that they took time to moan and reminisce about their friend, Donny. The director also created a tiny suspense here with the sound of sea gulls echoing offshore in this scene right before Walter start speaking in the next scene.
Before scattering Donny’s ashes, the dialogue from Walter’s eulogy where he talked a little about Donny’s bland life but then switched to the subject about his lost companions during the Vietnam War at Hill 365 which he mentioned countless times before in the film shows that Walter was still not over his post-traumatic syndrome. ‘He died – he died as so many young men of his generation before his time. In your wisdom, Lord, you took him. As you took so many bright flowering young men at Khe Sanh, at Langdok, at Hill 364! These young men gave their lives. And so did Donny.
Donny, who loved bowling.’ The reason why the director placed this line in the eulogy is to show how Walter considered this an opportunity to a closure of years and years wasted in memories. The Coen Brothers put a vivid, living proof of Walter being stuck in the past on screen via his costume throughout the movie with his trademark safari vest, amber lens aviator sunglasses and the military dog tag that he always kept close in the film.
Apart from the genuine friendship between the Dude, Walter and Donny, the eulogy dialogue also implies another layer of meaning from the movie concerning generation loss, changes and the cycle of life. Although the three main characters are bound together by bowling but Donny is the only one we ever do see bowl, in fact, we only seem to notice his existence at the bowling alley but his bowling results never did come to the Dude nor Walter’s notice. From the way how Donny let Walter call him names, swear at him and never really get to enjoy bowling’s fun, to Donny being scared to death with an heart attack caused by Nihilists attack or even after Donny’s death, when there is no family member but only Walter and the Dude to take care of his remains indicates a generation ignored and lost.
In the eulogy scene, the director used an unusual composition than those we often see in the movie, with Walter dominating the screen at front in the middle of the screen and the Dude falling into the background with matching hair color to the hill behind on the right side of the screen. This arrangement not only implies it is time to close the curtain of the Dude’s story but is also time for the audience to finally get to know more about Walter’s underlying obsession with him stepping up the stage to answer and satisfy the audience’s curiosity towards his bitterness past.
The prop Walter held during this scene, a Folgers roasted-coffee-powder can, also resembles a milk-powder can that acts as a metaphor for birth or new life, indicating the end of this phase of their lives but stepping into another phase. Walter wearing a military-hinted outfit while holding the milk-powder-can-like prop makes one of the many metaphorical contradictions that are placed in the movie. After the depressing, nerve-irritating eulogy comes the funny part. Walter finally scattered Donny’s ashes but the onshore wind literally forced the Dude to ‘face’ Donny’s disheartening death when he got covered in his ashes all over the body. The sound of waves coming onshore in this scene also implies that everyone has to go through the wash of generation impacts as well as events that one cannot avoid to experience in different stages of life.
The reappearance of sea gulls sound at this point represent the mockery of the Dude covered in ashes and also the shower of distorted society ideologies presented in this movie which are forced into our minds just like how sounds are forced into our heads. Towards the end of this scene, Walter’s action of putting down the can on the ground to comfort an offended version of Dude shows how he finally moved on from the past and started to focus on the present.
In The Big Lebowski, there are a flood of foul language usage with ‘Fuck it!’ being the motif of the film. With the Dude accusing Walter for considering everything a travesty, asking ‘What the fuck does anything have to do with Vietnam?’ madly and Walter apologizing for the first time throughout the whole movie indicates the slightly changed relationship due to the loss of a dearest common friend. Meanwhile, with the Dude’s intense hitting slowly turns into a heartwarming hug on screen, a bond stronger than ever between him and Walter are presented to the audience. In addition to the actors’ behavior, we can also notice a tiny body figure walking back from a distant cliff on the right upper corner on screen, such appearance of a irrelevant third party successfully delivered the message of ‘Life goes on no matter what’ to the audience, it also lighten up the mood while bringing the audience out of the story and back to the reality.
The Big Lebowski is an inspiring art piece that investigated the relationship between friends and society norms. The Coen brothers taught us how to bear our own pain and nightmares, shoulder what our generation offers us and showed us the importance to live it up so we have enough exciting adventures to share when we catch up with The Stranger (Sam Elliott) down the trail; to bring with us when we pass away.