Before filming a scene, Jeff Bridges would frequently ask the Coen Brothers "Did the Dude burn one on the way over?" If they said he had, he would rub his knuckles in his eyes before doing a take to make his eyes appear bloodshot.
The Dude is in every scene of the movie. Even in the scene where the Nihilists are ordering pancakes you can see the van in which the Dude and Walter are driving. This is in keeping with the traditional film-noir, in which the protagonist is the narrator and acts as the audience's guide throughout the film.
In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, John Goodman stated that The Dude referring to The Big Lebowski as a "human paraquat" was one of the only improvised lines to make it into the final film. Virtually every other line, including every 'man' and 'dude,' was scripted.
In a version that was edited for television broadcasts, the famous line "This is what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass!" was changed to "This is what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps!", which is regularly cited as one of the most "creative" edits made for a film to be aired on TV.
The Dude's line, "The Dude abides," is a reference to Ecclesiastes 1:4, "One generation passes away, and another generation comes: but the earth abides forever." It is a reference to how the Dude, much like the Earth, can weather change and chaos around him, but still remain the same.
The Dude tells Maude he was a roadie for Metallica on their (fictional) "Speed of Sound" tour and refers to the band members as a "bunch of assholes." Metallica themselves were flattered to be referred to in a Coen Brothers movie, with guitarist Kirk Hammett once noting in an interview that they'd tried to think of a way to incorporate that scene into their live shows.
One of the inspirations for the character of Walter is the Coen Brothers' friend, writer-director John Milius, an infamously bombastic right-winger with an obsession with all things militaristic and an enthusiasm for guns. His girth, beard, hair style, and shades are also all reflected in Walter's physical appearance. The Coens had tried to cast Milius in the film Barton Fink (1991) in the part eventually played by Michael Lerner.
T Bone Burnett acted as music consultant for the movie, and helped Joel Coen and Ethan Coen establish the Dude's taste in music. Burnett selected many of the existing songs in the movie, and also suggested the Dude's hatred towards The Eagles (Burnett himself is not a fan either). One of the band's member, Glenn Frey, was reportedly so dismayed about this that he once even angrily confronted Jeff Bridges when they met at a party.
The Dude has a habit of repeating phrases he hears from other characters. The George Bush speech "This aggression will not stand" is repeated by the Dude. Maude Lebowski uses the phrase "Parlance of our times" Dude repeats this one in the limo. The Big Lebowski says he "Will not abide another toe!" at the end of the movie "The Dude abides" and threatening Larry with castration like the nihilists did in his bathroom. In fact, many of the main characters do the same thing, except not always with phrases they've heard. For example, the Treehorn thugs say "Do you see what happens, Lebowski?" when Woo is peeing on the rug - and Walter says "Do you see what happens, Larry?" when he is smashing the Corvette. Walter says "The Chinaman is not the issue here!" in the bowling alley, and then, in the next scene, the Big Lebowski says "My wife is not the issue here!"
When we're introduced to the Dude's (bowling) arch-nemesis Jesus, a flamenco version of The Eagles song "Hotel California" plays (and is portrayed as playing on the bowling alley's PA system). Later, we learn in the taxicab scene that the Dude "...hate[s] the fuckin' Eagles, man."
As The Dude writes the 69 cent check at Ralph's, he watches George H.W. Bush give the "This aggression will not stand" press interview live on TV. President Bush gave the interview on the White House lawn on Sunday, August 5, 1990, 3 days after the Iraqi Army invaded Kuwait. The Dude's check, however, is dated September 11, 1991, indicating that The Dude is so broke, that he had to post-date a 69 cent check by over one year.
The diner where Walter and the Dude have a cup of coffee during the toe scene is the same diner from the later scenes of American History X (1998). It is located at Wilshire and Fairfax in Los Angeles. It's called Johnie's Coffee Shop and is only open for filming.
When being interviewed for "Inside the Actors Studio", Jeff Bridges met with the Coen brothers after reading the script and asked them "Did you guys hang out with me in high school?" referring to the Dude's easygoing surfer persona.
According to a local newspaper in Akron, Ohio, the "Medina Sod" bowling shirt the Dude wears in the movie is a real 1960s bowling shirt found in a thrift store in LA. It belonged to a man named Art Myers who was the foreman at Medina Sod in Medina, Ohio.
There are only two exchanges where the Dude speaks directly to Donny, as he largely ignores him. The first is in the bowling alley at the beginning, when Donny asks "What are we talking about?" twice, to which the Dude responds "My rug!" twice. The second is as the Dude is walking home from the bowling alley, Donny asks "Where you going, Dude?", to which he says "Home, Donny". Then Donny says, "Phone's ringin' Dude," and the Dude responds, "Thank you Donny."
The Dude calls The Big Lebowski a "human paraquat." Paraquat is an herbicide. During the late 1970s, a controversial program sponsored by the US government sprayed paraquat on marijuana fields in Mexico.
DaFino refers to himself as a "brother shamus," a term which confuses the Dude. This was a popular term for a private investigator during the inter-regnum years, when Raymond Chandler wrote the stories on which this film is loosely based.
Nearly all of the visible symbols in The Dude's second dream sequence are taken from earlier scenes: - the black and white tile is seen earlier in the Big Lebowski's entry way when The Dude walks with Brandt and again at the end - the tool belt and workman outfit The Dude is seen wearing is identical to the one worn by Karl Hungus in Logjammin' - Saddam Hussein is mentioned briefly by Walter in the car outside the bowling alley; in the opening credits, we see a man looking a bit similar to Saddam spraying the bowling shoes at the alley - Maude's gold bowling ball bra cups are taken from bowling balls seen on the rack behind Walter in an earlier scene at the bowling alley - the scissors wielded by the red-clad Nihilists are seen in a painting with a red background on Maude's wall - the red-on-black bowling ball is the same as the one in the earlier dream sequence and is also visible on the rack behind Walter and The Dude at the bowling alley. - The initial scene of The Dude's exaggerated walking in while casting a big shadow is similar to his landlord's shadow dance to "Pictures at an Exhibition." - Maude Lebowski's trident is from a statue at The Big Lebowski's home.
The lawyers that The Dude mentions are William Kunstler and Ronald Kuby, who are radical attorneys noted for defending numerous controversial defendants, including suspected terrorist leaders and the daughter of Malcolm X.
The private detective that's following Lebowski says that Bunny's family is from a farm "outside Moorhead, Minnesota". Moorhead is the home town of Jeff Bridges' wife and is located directly across the state line from Fargo. (Fargo (1996) was the title of the Coen brothers' previous film). Bunny's high school cheer-leading photo shows her wearing orange and black, the real school colors of Moorhead.
The Dude was based on independent film promoter Jeff Dowd (aka Jeff "The Dude" Dowd), who helped the Coen brothers secure distribution for their first feature, Blood Simple. (1984). Like his fictional counterpart, Dowd was a member of the Seattle Seven and takes a casual approach to grooming and dress. The Port Huron Statement that The Dude refers to himself as being one of the original authors of, is a real document/statement written by The Students for a Democratic Society at a national convention meeting in, Michigan, June 11-15, 1962. Jeff Dowd was not one of those students, being not quite 13 years old, as he was born on November 20, 1949.
Almost all the music on the soundtrack is revealed to be playing on a radio at some point - the official term for this concept is "diegesis". Examples: "The Man in Me" in the first dream sequence fades out after The Dude wakes up, but we still hear it, tinny and distant on his Walkman. "Hotel California" plays through out the entire scene with Jesus at the bowling alley, and even during the brief flashback, apparently as a song playing on the alley's PA system. The big band music that plays as The Dude leaves his house fades and is heard playing on Da Fino's car radio as they talk. Additionally, at the beginning of the film, the opening song, "Tumblin' Tumbleweeds", fades into a muzak version of itself as the Dude shops for his creamer in the grocery store; when it cuts to the Dude outside the store, the song has faded back into its original version.
The man shown bowling in the picture on The Dude's wall is President Richard Nixon. Nixon was an avid bowler; the picture in the movie is a well-publicized shot of Nixon in the bowling alley underneath the White House.
After having been cast in the film, Jeff Bridges, no stranger to working on films that would have constant script rewrites, called John Goodman to ask when they'd get the rewrites. Goodman, a longtime collaborator of the Coens, had told Bridges that this film was Coen territory and they didn't rewrite their own material.
In a 2013 interview with Terry Gross, Joel Coen told a story about having recently been at a movie theater in San Francisco, where they saw a booth displaying Lebowski posters. Ethan asked the teenage girl there what was going on, and she proceeded to tell him about the theater's nightly screenings of the movie. She said that people come dressed in costumes, "and you should come and you'll like it, it's fun." She had no idea that the two men had made the movie.
In Maude's nude scene a fake butt is used, as Julianne Moore refused to do nudity. Originally a body double was going to shoot the scene but quit just before filming the scene due to a post credit promise that was not going to happen, so Moore agreed to shoot the scene, but only with a prosthetic ass.
The bowling alley scenes were filmed at the former Holly Star Lanes near Santa Monica and the 101 Freeway exit ramp. The bowling alley has since been torn down and a new elementary school stands in its place.
While urinating on the Dude's rug, the Threehorn thug says "Ever thus to deadbeats, Lebowski!" This is a play on the Latin phrase "Sic semper tyrannis!" (Thus always to tyrants!), which was allegedly spoken by the murderers of Gaio Giulio Cesare and Abraham Lincoln during the assassinations.
Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers plays a character in a band called Autobahn, which is a jab at the German band Kraftwerk (Kraftwerk had a single called "Autobahn"). The two bands have played venues together in the 80's.
When The Dude and Walter are bowling after the botched ransom drop off, Walter says "Eitz chaim hi, Dude, as the ex used to say." This is the first half of a Hebrew verse, which means "It is a tree of life" (the second half of the verse is "lamachazikim ba", which means "to those who take hold of it") and it refers to the Old Testament.
The Little Lebowski Shop, is a store devoted exclusively to the film that's in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. The store sells merchandise related to the film such as memorabilia and t-shirts of the characters.
The photo that the Private Eye shows the Dude of Bunny Lebowski's farm is the same one shown in Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood". Oddly enough,the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who played Brandt, also went on to famously portray the eponymous author in 2005's Capote (2005), and 'Mark Pellegrino' who plays Blond Treehorn Thug, plays Dick Hickock (one of the murderers of that farm's inhabitants) in Capote (2005).
With their characteristic mix of fact and fiction, the Coen Brothers's blend mention of the real-life 1960s TV series Branded (1965) with the name of the show's supposed writer, the (fictional) character in the iron lung, Arthur Digby Sellers (whose name does not correspond to that of any actual major contributor of the short-lived "Branded" series). Meanwhile, elsewhere in the movie, when The Dude is drunk in the back of a Malibu police car, he sings the series's theme song.
The fictional German techno-pop band in the movie, Autobahn, is a parody of (or homage to) the legendary electronic band Kraftwerk. The Autobahn album cover is stylistically similar to the cover of the Kraftwerk album "The Man-Machine," and the group name Autobahn is the name of a Kraftwerk song. The title of Autobahn's album "Nagelbett" is German for "nail bed". In Swedish, Peter Stormare's native tongue, it means "nail bite".
The house in which The Dude meets with Jackie Treehorn was designed by architect John Lautner. The movie makes it look as though it sits on the beach, when in actuality, it rests on the side of a hill overlooking the city of Los Angeles.
The check that The Dude writes in the beginning of the movie, for only $0.69, is post-dated. He clearly writes the date as 9/11/91 and when he speaks to his landlord later in the movie the landlord reminds him that "Tomorrow is the tenth."
As the first President Bush remarks "This aggression will not stand" at the beginning of the movie, the Dude makes out a check dated 9-11-1991, exactly ten years before the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. As the film was released in 1998, this is obviously just a grim coincidence.
The initials for Walter Sobchak's security company (Sobchak Security) are "SS". The Jewish Walter's company shares the same initials as the Schutzstaffel, or SS. The Schutzstaffel were arguably the most demonic force of Nazi Germany. The Nuremberg Trials attributed most of the Holocaust atrocities to this group.
When the Dude and Walter are pulling away from the strip mall where Walter's business is located to do the hand-off with the nihilists, a Del Taco fast food restaurant is visible in the background. This Del Taco was previously located on the corner of Highland Ave. and Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood, and has since been demolished to make room for a CVS pharmacy.
As the first President Bush remarks "This aggression will not stand" at the beginning of the movie, the Dude makes out a check dated 9-11-1991, exactly ten years before the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. (This is, however, a mistake: The movie is set in 1990. See Goofs.)
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Everything that The Dude & Walter theorize in the beginning of the movie about Bunny's kidnapping comes true: the fake kidnapping, the fake severed toe, the lack of ransom money and Bunny eventually returning home to Lebowski's mansion (presumably because she got bored while hanging out in Las Vegas where she'd run off to).
The last time Donnie is seen bowling, he seems genuinely surprised not to get a strike, and sit feeling his bowling arm afterwards: sudden numbness, tingling, or weakness of the arm has been said to be one of the telltale signs of a pending heart attack.
The Coen Brothers were inspired by several sources and stories. Possibly the leading source was their friend Peter Exline, who coined the phrase "It really tied the room together" to describe one of his own rugs. Pete and a friend of his "Big" Lew Abernathy (a private detective who the Coens didn't know) are considered to be the partial basis for the character Walter. Pete, a Vietnam veteran and college professor, once jokingly tried to scare his students by exclaiming "First Vietnam, now this?!" while hitting a chair, similar to the way Walter (non-jokingly) inappropriately compares everything to Vietnam. Pete also told the Coens about a story where his car was stolen and Abernathy helped him investigate. They found the homework of a 14-year-old and, instead of telling the police, they put the homework in a plastic bag and drove out to the kid's home to confront him (though unlike the movie, the kid did not actually steal the car and Abernathy did not end the confrontation by bashing a car outside the kid's house). Another story related by Pete was the time that Abernathy was arraigned by a Santa Monica sheriff who, as in the movie, insulted him and told him to "stay out of my beach community!"
These are also spoilers for Miller's Crossing (1990) and Fargo (1996):] After Steve Buscemi's character has died and is being remembered, all that remains of him are his ashes which blow all over The Dude when Walter scatters them at the ocean. This is part of a three-movie running gag where the visible remains of Buschemi's characters get smaller and smaller. In "Miller's Crossing", Buscemi is last seen as a whole dead body on the ground, and in "Fargo" all that remains of him is a severed leg being fed into a wood chipper by his killer (played by Peter Stormare who also portrays one of the Nihilists here.)