The Big Lebowski
Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”
As filmmakers, the Coen brothers score more hits than misses, and I think that's partly because they don't start films based on lousy ideas. For this one, they dreamed up what it would be like for their endearingly dopey slacker friend to be caught in the middle of a Raymond Chandler mystery. That isn't to say that the film made itself from there, since the script is very clever and the actors dig into their characters (especially Jeff Bridges), but there's an unmistakeable core of goofiness at play that has made the film a justifiable cult classic.
Kris Weberg: The Coens do, however, almost always seem to begin with one sort of crime fiction or another as the "starter" for each of their films, usually with the aim of either satirizing the genre conventions or inverting the usual order of things. (Even The Hudsucker Proxy, for example, is The Sting if the con men were the big bad villains, to the point of casting Paul Newman in the schemer's role.)
That's not a criticism, but it does suggest something about their creative process, and perhaps about just why it works. After all, it might be said that every story revolves around some sort of moral transgression or the possibility thereof. By making their films about crime or the various fictional genres surrounding it, the Coens are simultaneously modernizing that eternal basis of fiction and cutting to the heart of the matter for contemporary audiences. − August 14, 2006 more by Kris
Scott Hardie: Good points. Do you suppose they're doing it consciously? One of my final literature classes was on the subject of mythology, and on the reading list was The Odyssey. We watched O Brother Where Art Thou after finishing the epic, and the professor explained that the Coen brothers had taken this millenia-old story and adapted it to their needs. I later pointed out in private that, according to popular trivia, the Coens hadn't done it intentionally and had never even read the famous book: Someone told them their screenplay seemed a lot like Homer, so they changed a few names and stuck in some allusions and gave the old poet a "based on" credit. Intelligent guy that he was, my professor spun his disappointment at learning this into an even greater point about mythology, that The Odyssey had so permeated global culture that the Coen brothers had written an entire movie based on it without being consciously familiar with the book.
Anyway, there's no telling for sure where the Coens get their ideas for things, especially since they're so coy about it and change their explanations for self-amusement or artistic license. Sometimes I wish I could befriend people like them just to get the inside scoop on what they won't tell interviewers. − August 16, 2006 more by Scott
Kris Weberg: I think your professor was correct to the extent that The Odyssey has long since become the Western world's model of "heroic journey," to the point that you can probably find a parallel to it in any European or American version. (In China and Japan, the canonical trek/quest story might be "A Journey to the West.") Of course, what makes any given story great or good isn't how closely it follows the genre model, but in the unique features or new twists that distinguish it from "the standard."
As to your second point, I'm reminded of what Alan Moore writes in the introduction to the collected edition of V for Vendetta. Basically, Moore argues that the question "Where do you get your ideas?" is simultaneously the most important question one can ask of an artist and the one the artist is least likely to know how to answer. A writer or artist can list influences, name mentors, and decribe techniques, but the wellspring of originality around which all those other elements somehow organize themselves and from which they draw their creative vitality itself defies language.
To get back to the Coens, they've said here and there that Barton Fink is about something similar. − August 16, 2006 more by Kris