It hit me like a bowling ball during my last viewing of the film, likely my 100th:
1. Assholes are fun to watch.
2. Every character in The Big Lebowski is an asshole.
|Walter, being perfectly calm.|
We feel strongly about assholes because they impact us strongly. They're strong characters, in some way, shape, or form. There needs to be a concrete reason to call someone an asshole, and without a doubt, every character in the film who effects the plot is worthy of the moniker.
Now, I don't mean the garden-variety, "He's such a jerk!" kind of asshole. Not everyone in the film is a jerk. The Dude, himself, isn't a jerk, and neither is Maude Lebowski or Marty (Dude's landlord). There are different types of assholes, but rest assured that every character in the film is an asshole subspecies: self-centered, short-sighted, oblivious, dislikeable, inflammatory, or some combination of the above.
These aren't the sorts of characters we want to be, and yet we still fill out Internet personality tests about them, all the same. What kind of asshole are you?
The Dude: Has a "fuck it" attitude that he must transcend to set things right, which he does. He's really the only character who transitions from asshole to decent human being. Remember, he walks away from Jeffrey Lebowski in the beginning of the film, only to actively confront him at the end.
Walter: Greedy, violent, uses his veteran status as carte blanche to bulldoze through pacifists, coffee breaks, the disabled, and a touching eulogy.
Donnie: Oblivious. "I am the walrus." "Your phone's ringin', Dude!" "His name's Lebowski? That's your name, Dude!" Not an asshole on purpose, but a wise-ass, at the least. Out of his element, most of the time.
Brant: Self-important boot-licker. Loves what he does a little too much.
Jeffrey (The Big) Lebowski: Embezzler, cantankerous, arrogant. Know anyone like this?
Bunnie: Greedy, runaway, leaves town without telling anyone, precipitating the film's central conflict.
Marty (Dude's landlord): Self-centered. Has a one-man dance quintet.
Larry: Car thief, punk.
Maude Lebowski: Manipulative, self-centered. Wants to raise a child with no input (or, perhaps, inkling) from the father.
Jackie Treehorn: Corrupt pornographer, hires incompetent thugs to do his dirty work.
Nihilists: Hypocrites, the lot. "Where's the money, Lebowski?" "It's not fair!"
The Stranger: He doesn't so much effect the plot as he does comment on it from afar. He's more narrator than character, so I don't count him in this crowd.
Most of these characters, in turn, are also users. Walter takes advantage of the kidnap situation and calls the ransom money, "ours." Brant uses his position as Lebowski manor castellian, mirroring his boss's every mood, to gain the only respect he's likely to ever have in life. The nihilists take advantage of Bunnie's absence, as does Jeffrey Lebowski, himself. Most everyone uses the Dude for something. All the Dude wants is his rug back.
Jackie Treehorn himself spouts the film's motto, and the quintessential rallying cry of the asshole: "I want mine." The Stranger, in his opening narration, calls Los Angeles County a lazy place. The Big Lebowski is a collection of lazy, greedy assholes, all of whom want something from someone else by expending minimum effort. No one's perfect, and they're all deeply flawed. They're great characters. Is it any wonder, then, that we keep going back, over the line?