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Analysis / The Big Lebowski

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The Film About Nothing

Much like Seinfeld was both The Show About Nothing as well as the archetypal television program of the 1990s, The Big Lewbowski is The Film About Nothing, and in its way, an accidental deconstruction of 1990s culture.

The focus is on the Dude, a slacking bum who gets by mainly on dumb luck and a laid-back demeanor, and we are tricked into believing that he stands out in the movie for this; while so much is going on around him, he may as well be nobody, with no ambition and nothing being achieved.

But it's a trick; a trick the 1990s era pulled off as a whole, in that nothing, really, was of any substance — consider it was the era when the Internet became a public commodity, a huge knowledge corpus made up of literally nothing physical, but almost entirely electrical impulses, potentials, and magnetic states. An era almost entirely made up of cynicism, avoidance, navel (and shoe) gazing, a mute disdain for nearly everything. Where the iconic band of the decade was best known for not giving a fuck. Movies like S.F.W. and the who-cares-its-all-ending Strange Days also illustrated this phenomenon of the period.


So the underlying fact of the movie is that, by and large, while The Dude is accomplishing nothing of value, he is not the only one doing so; he is, in fact, the only one being honest about it, by actually doing nothing rather than pretending to do things that in fact have no intrinsic value.

The pretentious trust fund artist (Maude). The self-absorbed renegade debutante (Bunny). The idle manservant (Brant). The smut peddler who has stooped to increasingly low levels of taste and quality (Jackie). The porn star who we first see passed out in a pool (Uli). Even Mr. Lebowski himself, who while his walls are plastered in accolades, as far as we know his output consists of giving awards to children, but not necessarily doing anything else productive with his money — which, like his daughter, he inherited. Add in the lazy obese kid who never speaks or reacts to his own crimes, his father who lies silently in a metal tank, Dude's self-conscious landlord and wannabe performance artist (another 1990s trend noted for it's frequent meaninglessness). We even sit through said performance, and all its warts, while the Dude watches — a paragon of nothingness observing an exercise in nothingness.


As if all this wasn't obvious, which it isn't, the final mallet to the head are the Nihilists themselves, who appear in their full glory, for what it is, in the final conflict of the story, and who, like the others, try to make something out of nothing by attempting to capitalize on the imaginary backstory. By appearing at the climax of the film, their appearance is a sheepish admission that yes, this movie is all about nothing.