I certainly couldn’t let this year slide away from us without mentioning what is, without a doubt, still one of my favorite movies, The Big Lebowski, which had it’s 10 year anniversary this year.
Do I even need to explain to you what this movie is? No. I mean, come on. It’s The Big Lebowski. Directed by the Coen brothers? Yeah, you’ve seen it. You know you have. And if you’re reading this and you’re thinking to yourself, “Hmm, I haven’t seen this movie, then… well, you probably don’t understand English. That’s cool and all. Just go watch the movie subtitled in your native tongue and come on back. We’ll still be here. But you know this movie.
Jesus! “You don’t fuck with The Jesus!” And, of course, Karl Hungus:
I could write pages and pages about this movie, you don’t even know. Volumes upon volumes, even. But (for now) I’ll spare you. Tonight we’re just going to talk about one character and one scene. My favorite scene. Well, one and a half scenes.
It all starts when our hero, The Dude (brilliantly assayed by Jeff Bridges)(if this was a longer piece on the movie as a whole, I’d totally go into the brilliant way that the Dude picks up the lexicon of every new social strata he enters, but yeah, that’s a story for another time), meets Maude (Julianne Moore, a fine sport and in great form here), the daughter of the title character, to discuss the kidnapping of the eponymous Big Lebowski’s young trophy wife (Tara Reid, in the role I’m convinced that she was quite literally born to play).
Maude suggests to the Dude, who’s somehow become the point man in the case of the kidnapped trophy wife due to a ridiculous case of mistaken identity, that all is not what it seems and that young Bunny, the kidnapped girl, probably had herself kidnapped to accumulate some money (her husband keeps her on a small budget). Why? “Because she owes money all over town,” we’re told. Including to “known pornographers.” And that’s where the star of our post today comes in:
Jackie Treehorn. Known pornographer.
But here’s the part where I suck and suck hard: I don’t even know where to begin to talk about, let alone really analyze this character, or especially his one brilliant scene in the movie. It all starts with set up, though. You hear about Treehorn long before you see him, he’s seedy and unscrupulous, sending thugs after our hero. And he is, after all, a “known pornographer.”
But then it all falls onto the very capable shoulders of Ben Gazzara‘s brilliantly memorable performance as Treehorn, especially given how little screen time he’s given, but how much he does with it, how perfectly he gives the character this very Malibu-ish laid back yet still regal psychopath vibe. Again, part of that has to do with the writing and the classic way in which the Coens handle the character, who’s creating ripples and ramifications of his very existence long before he pops up onscreen and long after he’s gone. But there’s practically no one more capable of handling this particular medium of crazy characters who look perfectly normal and functioning on the outside than Gazzara. He’s had a hell of a filmography, but have you seen Road House? Say what you will about it (as long as you remember that it’s a brilliant film), but you can’t say that you easily forget Gazzara’s wonderfully unhinged Brad Wesley character after viewing it.
Eventually, the two thugs who peed on the Dude’s rug at the beginning of the movie (and kicked this beautiful tale into high gear) show up at the Dude’s place again. “Ping your diapers on, Lebowski,” one of them tells him. “Jackie Treehorn wants to see you.” You don’t say no to an invite like that.
From there we’re treated to a lovely non sequitir sequence showing you just how much fun a party can be at Jackie Treehorn’s Malibu pad:
Just a topless girl being tossed up and down in slow mo to a lovely soundtrack and for the amusement of the guys holding that blanket. And from the darkness emerges the man himself…
“Hello, Dude. Thanks for coming. I’m Jackie Treehorn.”
From there, Treehorn takes the Dude into what I guess you’d call his quite luxurious living room and they settle in for a nice little chat, which goes a little something like this…
Treehorn: “What’s your drink, Dude?”
The Dude: “White Russian, thanks. How’s the smut business, Jackie?”
Treehorn: “I wouldn’t know, Dude. I deal in publishing, entertainment, political advocacy, and-”
The Dude: “What one was ‘Logjammin?’”
Treehorn: “Regrettably, it’s true. Standards have fallen in adult entertainment. It’s video, Dude. Now that we’re competing with the amateurs, we can’t afford to invest that little extra in story, production value, feeling.”
Treehorn: “People forget that the brain is the biggest erogenous zone-”
The Dude: “On you, maybe.”
Treehorn: “Of course, you do get the good with the bad. The new technology permits us to do exciting things with interactive erotic software. Wave of the future, Dude. 100% electronic.”
The Dude: “Uh huh. Well, I still jerk off manually.”
From there they get down to the business on the case of the kidnapped trophy wife, Bunny. Jackie Treehorn doesn’t know where she is, and in fact, he thinks she staged the kidnapping too, and did it to raise the money to pay him. He doesn’t scare what scam the Dude is playing on the husband, he just wants his money. In fact, if the Dude can bring him his money, then Jackie Treehorn is pretty sure he can offer the dude a nice little finder’s fee.
The Dude: “Okay, Jackie, done. I like the way you do business, man.”
From there, the Dude tells Jackie Treehorn where his money can be found – with a 15 year old kid living in NoHo, near the In-N-Out Burger – and it’s a story that Jackie finds a little hard to believe. But he’s interrupted by phone call and has to take down a message…
Amongst the many other wonderful things this film is, it’s also the Coens’ take on the Raymond Chandler-esque L.A. detective, so of course the Dude notices that Jackie’s taking a message and writing something down. Treehorn then leaves the room for a moment, so utilizing all the tools of the detective that you can see in any movie, the Dude decides to sneak over to see what the note was.
And how does he do that? Shame on you if you can’t guess. But it just means that you haven’t watched enough old detective movies. It’s simple! Since Jackie Treehorn tore the page you wrote the note off the pad, the Dude will just grab a pencil and shade over the top sheet that’s left and the indent of Treehorn’s note will be there. And it is. And it is this:
That’s probably not what the Dude was expecting.
Shortly after that, the Dude passes out since Jackie Treehorn spiked his drink.
And he proceeds to have the greatest hallucination/fantasy dream sequence in a movie ever.
But if somehow you haven’t seen it… well, I’m not going to spoil it anymore than I already have. Let’s just say, you’ve got yourself something to go do, huh?