Released in theaters in March of 1998 to middling box office returns and somewhat mixed reviews, Joel & Ethan Coen’s The Big Lebowski has since become a seminal cult classic. The story, concerning a lackadaisical stoner/bowling enthusiast drawn into a convoluted kidnapping plot (this is the Coen brothers, after all) has since gone on to inspire books, specialty stores, a religion and conventions that have evolved into massive, full-on festivals. While the understated performance by Jeff Bridges as The Dude is sublime, John Goodman’s portrayal of Walter, his irate best friend and bowling partner, ends up the true fan favorite.
Based on screenwriter John Milius, whose credits include Apocalypse Now, Conan the Barbarian and Red Dawn, Walter stands in sharp contrast to The Dude. Walter is loud, impulsive, and consistently wrong yet never willing to admit it, or even seemingly consider the possibility. Still, with The Dude’s boundless ability to shrug it all off and say “f*ck it,” Walter’s desire to constantly “draw a line in the sand” serves as a driving point for much of the film’s plot.
“That rug really tied the room together.”
While initially willing to shrug off the entire ordeal, The Dude is coerced by Walter to follow-up on the matter. It’s out of this simple quest to be compensated for his lost rug that serves as a catalyst for the rest of the film.
“Donny you’re out of your element!”
Poor Donny (played by Steve Buscemi), the third member of the group who never quite seems like he’s up to speed with what’s going on in the conversation. Here, Walter responds to Donny’s inquiries with the same gusto we’ll come to expect.
“This is not ‘Nam, this is bowling, there are rules.”
While competing in a league game, Walter zealously proclaims that competing player Smoky — the emotionally fragile pacifist played by Jimmie Dale Gilmore — had stepped over the line, invalidating the eight pins he’d knocked down. Walter manages to get this lone explanation of his logic out calmly before one of his typically irate and always-hilarious overreactions.
“Calmer than you are.”
The Dude, trying to reason with Walter regarding his aforementioned overreaction, is met with his usual shrugged-off resistance, as he simply refuses to acknowledge any wrongdoing on his part. When The Dude ultimately pleads with him to “take it easy,” he responds in kind.
“Dude. Come on, you’re being very un-Dude.”
On their first attempt to deliver the ransom to the alleged kidnappers, The Dude becomes understandably anxious. Conversely, Walter becomes uncharacteristically calm. He even goes so far as to offer these words of solace to The Dude, amidst his repeated assertion that they’re dealing with “f*cking amateurs.”
“You see what happens, Larry?”
Walter and The Dude approach the home of young Larry Sellers, a teenager likely responsible for stealing The Dude’s car and the ransom money within. Walter’s measured response to them being stone-faced by Larry is both irrational and hugely consequential. It’s also hysterically profane to the point it’s nearly uncensorable for broadcast TV.
“You want a toe? I can get you a toe, Dude. There are ways. You don’t want to know about it, believe me.”
The Dude, mortified by what he sees in the back of Lebowski’s limo, reveals the news to Walter in hopes of convincing him of the increasing severity of their situation. Walter, of course, refuses to see it that way, instead repeating his insistence that what’s happening is simply the work of “f*cking amateurs.”
“Saturday, Donny, is Shabbos, the Jewish day of rest. That means that I don’t work, I don’t drive a car, I don’t f*cking ride in a car, I don’t handle money, I don’t turn on the oven, and I sure as sh*t don’t f*cking roll!
Having converted to Judaism for marriage, Walter keeps his adopted faith even after they divorce. Once Donny announces the posting of the next round-robin, Walter learns that he’s scheduled to play on Saturday, the Jewish day of rest. In his protest, Walter offers his concise, profanity ridden explanation of the day’s holy importance.
Dude, chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature. Asian-American, please.
He’s also known for the occasional bout of late-90s political correctness.
“F*ck it, Dude. Let’s go bowling.”
In a movie where the script is wildly dependent on overlapping and repeated dialogue throughout, this phrase serves as a sort of bookend. The first time as Walter’s trademark refusal to accept the consequences of his actions, and the second as… well, pretty much the same thing, but with some grievance thrown in as well.