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.
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.
When being interviewed for Inside the Actors Studio (1994), 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.
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.
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 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.
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 Coen 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.
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, told Bridges that this film was Coen territory and they didn't rewrite their own material.
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.
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.
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 to the Big Lebowski. Brandt tells the Dude that "her life is in your hands", which Dude repeats during the ransom delivery. Walter tells the Dude that "nothing is f###ed"; the Dude repeats it in the limo. Maude Lebowski uses the phrase "Parlance of our times"; Dude repeats this one in the limo as well. The Big Lebowski says he "will not abide another toe!"; at the end of the movie "The Dude abides". He threatens Larry with genital mutilation, 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!". Jesus Quintana uses the phrase "I f### you in the a##", and this is later repeatedly shouted by one of the nihilists, and re-phrased by Walter as "This is what happens when you f### a stranger in the a##!" Perhaps the most repeated phrase, "what the f### are you talking about?" is first used by the Dude in the first bowling scene, and then repeated and paraphrased throughout the movie by the Dude, Walter, Donny and Da Fino (Jon Polito).
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 has long been closed. It's only used for filming.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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 Little Lebowski Shop, now closed, was a store devoted exclusively to the film that was in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. The store sold merchandise related to the film such as memorabilia and t-shirts of the characters.
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.
Nearly all of the visible symbols in The Dude's second dream sequence are taken from earlier scenes: The initial scene of The Dude's exaggerated walking while casting a big shadow is similar to his landlord's interpretive dance to "Pictures at an Exhibition"; the black and white tiled floor 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 (Peter Stormare) in Logjammin'; Saddam Hussein, who is standing behind the counter, is mentioned briefly by Walter in the car outside the bowling alley, we hear George Bush Sr. comment on the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and 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; Maude Lebowski's trident is from a statue at The Big Lebowski's home; 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 topless girl falling through a black frame is almost the same shot that opened the scene in which the Dude shows up at Jackie Treehorn's party; the scissors wielded by the red-clad Nihilists are seen in a painting with a red background on Maude's wall.
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 half and half in the grocery store; when it cuts to the Dude outside the store, the song has faded back into its original version.
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.
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.
While urinating on the Dude's rug, the Treehorn 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.
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 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).
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 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.
The shot of Da Fino parked in his VW Beetle, seen in the Dude's rear view mirror, is almost identical to the shot of the private investigator's car in the Coen Brother's first film, Blood Simple. (1984).
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 played venues together in the '80s.
When they started writing the script, the Coens wrote only 40 pages and then let it sit for a while before finishing it. This is a normal writing process for them, because they often "encounter a problem at a certain stage, we pass to another project, then we come back to the first script. That way we've already accumulated pieces for several future movies."
The house in which The Dude meets with Jackie Treehorn was designed by architect John Lautner. It has been used in many other Hollywood productions as well as fashion shoots. 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 house and its interior decoration were donated to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2016 by owner James Goldstein, for the purpose of turning it into a museum.
The Dude's reference to a White Russian cocktail as a "Caucasian" does not refer to the white race in general, but to the residents of an area of the Russian Federation known as the Caucasus, the name of which is derived from an ancient language word for "white with snow" i.e., white Russians.
Initially, Allen Klein wanted $150,000 for the use of "Dead Flowers" by The Rolling Stones, but he so adored the scene where The Dude talks about hating "the f**kin' Eagles," he waived the licensing fee.
John Turturro originally thought he was going to have a bigger role in the film; when he read the script, he realized the part was quite small. However, the Coen brothers let him come up with a lot of his own ideas for the character, like shining the bowling ball and the scene where he dances backwards, which he says was inspired by Muhammad Ali.
The significance of the bowling culture was, according to Joel Coen, "important in reflecting that period at the end of the fifties and the beginning of the sixties. That suited the retro side of the movie, slightly anachronistic, which sent us back to a not-so-far-away era, but one that was well and truly gone nevertheless."
Originally, John Goodman wanted a different kind of beard for Walter but the Coen brothers insisted on the "Gladiator" or what they called the "Chin Strap" and he thought it would go well with his flattop haircut.
Jesus Quintana was inspired, in part, by a performance the Coens had seen John Turturro give in 1988, at the Public Theater in a play called Mi Puta Vida in which he played a pederast-type character, "so we thought, let's make Turturro a pederast. It'll be something he can really run with," Joel said in an interview.
Julianne Moore was sent the script while working on The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997). She worked only two weeks on the film, early and late during the production that went from January to April 1997 while Sam Elliott was only on set for two days and did many takes of his final speech.
Cinematographer Roger Deakins discussed the look of the film with the Coens during pre-production. They told him that they wanted some parts of the film to have a real and contemporary feeling and other parts, like the dream sequences, to have a very stylized look.
The film's overall structure was influenced by the detective fiction of Raymond Chandler. Ethan Coen said, "We wanted something that would generate a certain narrative feeling - like a modern Raymond Chandler story, and that's why it had to be set in Los Angeles ... We wanted to have a narrative flow, a story that moves like a Chandler book through different parts of town and different social classes". The use of the Stranger's voice-over also came from Chandler as Joel remarked, "He is a little bit of an audience substitute. In the movie adaptation of Chandler it's the main character that speaks off-screen, but we didn't want to reproduce that though it obviously has echoes. It's as if someone was commenting on the plot from an all-seeing point of view. And at the same time rediscovering the old earthiness of a Mark Twain."
Although John Goodman denies it, Jeff Bridges claims that he and John ad-libbed most of their dialogue. This may be true, due to the fact that they often interrupt their own lines and stutter in the film.
To achieve the point-of-view of a rolling bowling ball the Coen brothers mounted a camera "on something like a barbecue spit", according to Ethan Coen, and then dollied it along the lane. The challenge for them was figuring out the relative speeds of the forward motion and the rotating motion. CGI was used to create the vantage point of the thumb hole in the bowling ball.
The Coen Brothers have repeatedly shot down anything vaguely resembling the idea of writing and directing a sequel, with Joel Coen flatly stating, "I just don't like sequels." Still, the rumours persist, and they reached a fever pitch in October of 2014 when unfounded claims that a sequel would start filming in January 2015 started swirling around the internet. However, John Turturro felt that his character needed more screentime and has been bothering the Coen Brothers to revisit the character for years, or at least give him permission to go ahead and direct some kind of Jesus-centric spin-off.
According to Alex Belth, who wrote the e-book The Dudes Abide on his time spent working as an assistant to the Coen Brothers, casting the role of Jeffrey Lebowski was one of the last decisions made before filming. Names tossed around for the role included Robert Duvall (who passed because he wasn't fond of the script), Anthony Hopkins (who passed since he had no interest in playing an American), and Gene Hackman (who was taking a break at the time). A second "wish list" included an oddball "who's who," including Norman Mailer, George C. Scott, Jerry Falwell, Gore Vidal, Andy Griffith, William F. Buckley, and Ernest Borgnine. The Coens' ultimate Big Lebowski, however, was Marlon Brando. Apparently, the Coens amused themselves by quoting some of their favourite Jeffrey Lebowski lines ("Strong men also cry") in a Brando imitation.
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."
The notorious Lebowski rug was such a central part of the film, the Coen Brothers even participated in an interview with Floor Covering Weekly while promoting the movie. In a DVD extra, Ethan Coen notes that producer Joel Silver thought the film should end with The Dude getting his rug back, but the Coens never followed through.
In 2014, Texas Supreme Court Justice Debra Lehrmann cited the movie in a legal decision on a freedom of speech case. Lehrmann noted that it's common knowledge that prior restraint, or censorship prior to an expression taking place, has been largely rejected by "the Supreme Court, this Court, Texas courts of appeals, legal treatises, and even popular culture." A footnote attached quoted Walter Sobchak's claim that "the Supreme Court has roundly rejected prior restraint."
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.
For the film's look, the Coens wanted to avoid the usual retro 1960s clichés like lava lamps, Day-Glo posters, and Grateful Dead music and for it to be "consistent with the whole bowling thing, we wanted to keep the movie pretty bright and poppy", Joel said in an interview. For example, the star motif featured predominantly throughout the film, started with the film's production designer Richard Heinrichs' design for the bowling alley. According to Joel Coen, he "came up with the idea of just laying free-form neon stars on top of it and doing a similar free-form star thing on the interior". This carried over to the film's dream sequences. "Both dream sequences involve star patterns and are about lines radiating to a point. In the first dream sequence, the Dude gets knocked out and you see stars and they all coalesce into the overhead nightscape of L.A. The second dream sequence is an astral environment with a backdrop of stars", remembers Heinrichs. For Jackie Treehorn's Malibu beach house, he was inspired by late 1950s and early 1960s bachelor pad furniture.
Roger Deakins described the look of the fantasy scenes as being very crisp, monochromatic, and highly lit in order to afford greater depth of focus. However, with the Dude's apartment, Deakins said, "it's kind of seedy and the light's pretty nasty" with a grittier look. The visual bridge between these two different looks was how he photographed the night scenes. Instead of adopting the usual blue moonlight or blue street lamp look, he used an orange sodium-light effect.
For Jackie Treehorn's Malibu beach house, Richard Heinrich was inspired by late 1950s and early 1960s bachelor pad furniture. The Coen brothers told Heinrichs that they wanted Treehorn's beach party to be Inca-themed, with a "very Hollywood-looking party in which young, oiled-down, fairly aggressive men walk around with appetizers and drinks. So there's a very sacrificial quality to it."
Woo and Blond switch shirts in their two scenes. In the first, Woo wears a sleeveless plaid shirt and Blond wears a gray tank top. In the second, Woo wears the gray tank top, while Blond wears the sleeveless plaid shirt.
The scene at 22 minutes into the movie when The Dude is in his stance on the rug and you can hear Brandt on the answering machine, the shoes that The Dude is wearing are the Adidas Brougham endorsed by Run DMC and made famous by the "My Adidas" song.
Steve Buscemi also played a sidekick to the anti hero 2 years before in Escape from L.A. (1996) opposite Kurt Russell as anti hero Snake Plissken. Coincidently, Jeff Bridges was considered for and offered the role of Snake Plissken in Escape from New York (1981) but was uninterested and turned it down, as did his good friends Nick Nolte and Tommy Lee Jones. Russell, who was also a good friend of Bridges', got the role because he had worked with John Carpenter before and was Carpenter's choice for the role. Bridges was also considered for the lead role of Macready in The Thing (1982), but turned it down. It too went to Kurt Russell under John Carpenter's direction. It became a cult classic, as did Escape from New York (1981) and this movie. Bridges later worked and became friends with Carpenter on Starman (1984), which earned him an Oscar nomination.
When the Dude and Walter are pulling away from the strip mall where Walter's business is located to do the handoff with the nihilists, a Del Taco fast food restaurant is visible in the background. This Del Taco was 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.
In the scene where Walter pulls out a gun on Smokey, it's over him crossing the line when bowling. This parallels Iraq's border crossing into Kuwait, which prompted the Gulf War and very much thematic throughout the film. President Bush spoke of a new world order, which is also symbolic of the Statue of Liberty. In the background of the scene when Walter has the gun pointed in his face, there is a seven pointed light, looking much like the crown on Liberty.
Walter tells "The Dude" that Arthur Digby Sellers wrote for the show Branded (1965). "...156 episodes. Bulk of the show", he states. The series only lasted two (2) seasons. Which accounts for forty-six (46) total episodes.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The last time Donnie is seen bowling, he seems genuinely surprised not to get a strike, and then sits, feeling his bowling arm; sudden numbness, tingling, or weakness of the arm is one of the telltale signs of an impending 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!"
The scene in which Walter throws the ringer out of the window was actually filmed backwards and reversed in postproduction. After several failed attempts to successfully throw the briefcase in a perfect arc, the driver was told to back up while an offscreen crewmember threw the suitcase to the driver.
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.)