When The Big Lebowski hit the big screen in 1999, it struggled to find an audience and disappointed at the box office. Since then, its popularity has grown exponentially, even beyond the realm of a cult classic. The film is so popular today, entire religions have been formed around “Dudeism,” devoted followers can become ordained priests in the Church of the Latter Day Dude, and a Lebowski Fest is held in Louisville, KY, every year.
The Coen Brothers are postmodern masters who fill their movies with clever, meta winks. These nods and Easter eggs have resulted in a surprising number of ardent fan theories. In the film, the Dude and his two bowling buddies, Donny and Walter, become involved in a plot that is ultimately nothing more than a giant, convoluted red herring.
Some of these fan theories are totally outrageous, others may actually be quite reasonable. Vote up The Big Lebowski fan theories you think are the most plausible.
Redditor /u/Zeppldohm argues that it's no coincidence that the Big Lebowski (David Huddelston) and the Dude (Jeff Bridges) have the same name. The theory claims that the elder Lebowski had an affair with his maid, who became pregnant with the Dude.
The maid blackmailed Lebowski, who was in a high-profile relationship at the time, and used the money to start a trust for the young Dude. This money would explain why the Dude can live in an LA apartment, bowl all the time, drink White Russians, and smoke pot constantly, all without having a real job.
The theory further states that when the Dude approaches Lebowski about his rug, the senior Lebowski is initially disappointed in his son but later becomes nervous, concerned that the Dude might eventually discover his lineage and want a chunk of inheritence.
The Big Lebowski develops a plan to make both a large sum of money and the Dude disappear.
Redditor /u/Lord-Finesse argues that the three bowling pals and the Stranger each represent a different version of the American Dream. The Dude's version is focused on doing what is morally right, although most of his time is spent getting high and not overly exerting himself. The Dude is not interested in getting rich - he just wants to live his own laidback lifestyle.
Walter is a proud Vietnam veteran. He knows he suffered trauma while serving overseas, but he accepts the effects as a consequence of his patriotic duty. He believes the country owes him something and will not be taken advantage of in any situation.
Donny represents the "norm." Although he asks questions, he is basically clueless. Donny is an uninvolved character who gets the short end of the stick because of his passive nature.
Lastly, the Redditor argues that the Stranger represents the actual American Dream:
He is what they all want to be, He is the essence of "The American Dream." A rugged settler, a cowboy - the idealist image all Americans at heart want to be. The fact that he takes such a shine to the Dude perhaps is an attempt to try and tell us that we need to be a bit more like the Dude, and just relax man.
The Big Lebowski prides itself on its convoluted, hard-to-follow plot. Redditor /u/turbulance4 theorizes that Donny represents the audience due to his constant confusion. In the film's opening scene, the Dude and Walter are discussing the events that led to the Dude's rug getting soiled. At this point, the audience is already confused, as is Donny.
Walter even says to Donny, "Were you listening to The Dude's story? You have no frame of reference. You're like a child who wanders into the middle of a movie..."
The theory concludes with some speculations upon Donny's untimely end and comedic funeral:
...Walter and Dude give Donny an unceremonious burial. His ashes never made it to the ocean, as they assumed he wanted (and maybe assumed wrong). And the movie itself concluded abruptly, never quite giving the audience the closure they wanted (What happened to the million dollars? Did the nihilists just give up? Will Walter and Dude make it to the finals?).
Although the Dude is typically perceived as a hyper-relaxed character, Redditor /u/ladBiniam points out several instances throughout the film in which the Dude is anything but relaxed - he even becomes extremely angry in response to some relatively minor incidents.
This theory proposes that the Dude and Walter, who is frequently indignant, originally met in anger management:
...the Dude is trying to control his anger and he seems to do so. He is seen doing some form of Zen meditation and listening to relaxing songs which help him get rid of his anger. To top this off, after the scene where Walter pulled the [side arm] on Smokey, the Dude is telling Walter to take it easy but Walter is countering him by saying "I'm calmer than you are" which suggests in fact the Dude used to be angrier than him and Walter knows that because they probably met in anger management. The only problem is the Dude is the only one succeeding in controlling his anger.