The significance of coffee to The Big Lebowski is overshadowed by the prominence of its alcoholic cousin the White Russian, but over the course of this meandering, opaque, brilliant film there are numerous instances where coffee sneaks into frame.
The Coen Brothers' 1998 cult masterpiece involves a laid back waster known as The Dude and his unwitting involvement in a kidnapping plan gone awry. It’s a Raymond Chandler-inspired neo-noir, with the main difference being the complete lack of comprehension shown by most every character in the film.
Note: This article is going to assume some familiarity with the movie, so if you haven’t seen it then please, stop reading and go watch it. It’s probably on the internet somewhere.
All clear? Great. Let’s continue.
A couple of quick examples:
- The Dude has a coffee cup flung at his head by the chief of police of Malibu, after he’s found wandering in a daze post-drugging and then upsetting the chief by not listening to him. Stay out of Malibu, Lebowski.
- The Dude and Walter become upset with the price of an urn to carry the ashes of their departed friend Donny - “It is our most modestly-priced receptacle” - so rather than leave him behind they purchase a can of Folger’s coffee (from the nearest Ralph’s) in order to transport their comrade to the beach and commit his final mortal remains to the bosom of the Pacific ocean, which he loved so well. (Good night, sweet prince)
However, the most important scene, and the only one which actually involves coffee and isn’t just a blatant excuse to quote the movie, is the scene set in Johnie’s Coffee Shop, a now-defunct Los Angeles landmark on the corner of Wilshere Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue.
The conversation devolves from the subject of Walter’s ability to acquire a toe by 3 o’clock that afternoon (with nail polish) to a debate on the subject of civil liberties and the First Amendment after Walter is asked to be quiet by the waitress (this is a family restaurant, after all).
“Oh please, dear! For your information, the supreme court has roundly rejected prior restraint.”
In the end the Dude bails - “Hey Dude, don’t go away, man! Come on, this affects all of us man! Our basic freedoms!” - although Walter steadfastly refuses to leave until he’s finished his coffee.
“I’m staying. I’m finishing my coffee. Enjoying my coffee.”
Truly, words to live by.