It is easier to appreciate a realistic film, since everyone is qualified to judge the likelihood, to compare the universe of the film with his own. This is why the use of naturalism has become a critical default criterion for reviewers, especially those with a tight deadline. Pauline Kael, perhaps the greatest of all American film critics, had very little time for deliberately stylized films, which is why she reviewed most of Stanley Kubrick’s work after Dr Strangelove. Kubrick, like the Coens, preferred to invent worlds rather than imitate the real thing. But by avoiding the conventions of naturalism in The great Lebowski, the Coen brothers have baffled or alienated many critics. Merkin’s 1998 review is a perfect example. “The Coens can’t be bothered – or maybe they don’t know how – to make a connection between what’s in their clever heads and the laborious and sometimes painful world we live in when we don’t. we’re not at home the movies,” she wrote.
The Coens make black comedies that are tinged with the absurd and populated by exaggerated, caricatural personalities. But some of their films are more realistic, like Fargo, There is no country for old people, and The real courage. These are the ones that critics tend to defend and who compete for awards. But when the Coens veer away from realism and into extravagant comedy, as in Burn after reading and O brother, where are you?, they received a mixed reception. (The great Lebowski was also bothered by the tracking FargoCoens’ most critically and commercially successful film at the time.)
To be fair, crazy, bug-eyed comedies are hard to pull off and understandably divisive, as their intent can be hard to read. This describes the Coen brothers’ films that are widely considered the least artistically successful: The lady killers, Intolerable Crueltyand The Hudsucker Proxy. Weird fFilms can also take time to absorb. Director Rian Johnson described The great Lebowski as a “farmer”, a film that we only appreciate after having seen it again and again.
The Great LebowskI am a farmer because the plot is less important than the characters. At the heart of the film is the unlikely friendship of the quasi-pacifist Dude and the violence-prone Walter. The zinging banter between the two characters is truly a battle of philosophies. The Dude (one of the authors of the original Port Huron Statement, “not the compromised second draft”) embodies the spirit of 1960s counterculture, worn down by the 1990s but still cunning and subversive; Walter is an instinctive hawk, always escalating conflict, often with disastrous results. But to appreciate the film, you have to get to know the two characters and appreciate the nuances of their friendship, which is easier after several viewings. The dialogue also becomes richer, as you notice how the characters have distinctive jargons that the Dude, with his mop-up wit, absorbs and echoes.