The Two Lebowskis: The Coens’ Battle Of The Boomers, Two Opposing Sides Of A Cultural Revolution

“Your revolution is over, Mr. Lebowski. Condolences. The bums lost.” —The Big Lebowski, The Big Lebowski

All “The Dude” wanted was his rug back. It really tied the room together.

And so when he visits the mansion of the other Jeffrey Lebowski (David Huddleston) — The Big Lebowski, the millionaire, the one with all the honorary degrees and commendations and the key to the city of Pasadena — The Dude is seeking some small measure of justice for a big misunderstanding. A couple of dumb goons had mistaken him for the rich Lebowski and punished him, in true dumb-goon fashion, by urinating on his rug and calling him a loser. Spurred on by his buddy Walter Sobchak, who’s always spoiling for a fight, The Dude believes it’s reasonable that the other Lebowski compensate him for the rug, since the goons intended to come after him. Presumably, this highly successful businessman can afford the courtesy.

(For clarity’s sake, all future mentions of “The Big Lebowski” will be “Lebowski” and “The Dude” will be “The Dude.” I’m into the whole brevity thing, so I’m passing on “El Duderino.”)

The question that The Dude never asks himself, especially after the meeting goes so badly is: Why did Lebowski agree to see him at all? There are two answers to that question, one that’s apparent right away and another that’s revealed as a lotta strands come together in ‘ol Duder’s head:

Lebowski wants to humiliate The Dude, a ‘60s burnout who represents everything a reactionary like him hates about the counterculture rabble-rousers in their generation.

Lebowski doesn’t have any money, in fact, and wants to use The Dude as an inept cover for a million-dollar embezzlement scheme from the family foundation. The meeting is his way of sizing up The Dude as a sap. (Though The Dude slipping off with “any rug in the house” is a good tip-off that he shouldn’t be underestimated.)

The two Lebowskis in The Big Lebowski are carrying a Baby Boomer dispute into the early ‘90s, and it’s no mistake that the Coen brothers have chosen the beginning of the Gulf War as the setting for the film, rather than merely staging it in the present. The two men, a reactionary and a pacifist, have been on opposite sides of the cultural battleground since the ‘60s, and the hostility still lingers, even now that the Reagan Revolution has definitively snuffled out the one launched by the peaceniks. The Dude, the most passive of pacifists, just wants to be left alone. The biggest running joke of The Big Lebowski is that the world won’t let him.