The Big Lebowski Lives On In 'Where's The Dude?' If you like a nice White Russian and have a rug that really ties the room together, you'll get a kick out of figuring out where, exactly, the Dude is abiding in the background of various movie scenes.
NPR logo The Big Lebowski Lives On In 'Where's The Dude?'

The Big Lebowski Lives On In 'Where's The Dude?'

"The story is LEW-dicrous." That's not the best line in 1998's The Big Lebowski (that honor would have to go to the Dude's "This aggression will not stand, man!") but helmet-haired Maude Lebowski's denunciation of a porn flick is memorable nonetheless. It's also a clever bit of meta-commentary. Logjammin', the explicit film Maude's talking about, is no less ludicrous than the rest of The Big Lebowski. From German nihilists, to a killer ferret (or is it a marmot?), to a Jewish John Goodman, the Coen brothers' movie is a gonzo assault on all good sense. And yet, in a final twist, this deeply ludicrous movie has become a cultural icon.

Twenty years after its release, while other quintessentially '90s films have vanished from sight (remember Mystery Men?) The Big Lebowski has been celebrated with an annual festival, a new religion, a 2009 documentary and floods of merch. "Jeff Bridges will be 'the Dude,' now and forever," GQ's Caity Weaver wrote last year. Whether you share this devotion to all things Lebowski will determine your reaction to Where's the Dude? If you count Bridges' laid-back bowling buff among your heroes, you'll get a kick out of this book.

Where's the Dude? is a sort of sequel to 2016's Where's Warhol? from the same publisher (but different creators). In the latter, Andy Warhol was hidden, Where's Waldo?-style, amidst the crowds at various arty happenings throughout history. Where's the Dude? uses the same gambit, placing the shaggy-haired Dude on various well-known film sets. He idles on the deck of the Titanic, raises his signature White Russian in the House of Blue Leaves (from Kill Bill), strolls along the beach as Jaws is being shot, mingles with the crowd watching the chariot race from Ben-Hur.

If that list of movies seems a bit arbitrary, that's because it is. With only 12 slots available, the creators seem to have engaged in some torturous film-buff math: Start with a few historically important movies (The Wizard of Oz, Apocalypse Now). Add a few movies that make readers feel nostalgic (Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Four Weddings and a Funeral) and movies that have the necessary crowd scenes (Rocky, Titanic). Finish off with a couple of scenes that happen to be fun to draw (the factory from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the lobby of The Grand Budapest Hotel). The result is a collection of entertaining illustrations expressing a totally incoherent version of film history.

Adding to the noise is the creators' decision to hide all sorts of additional people and creatures in every scene. These are explained at the end, in excellent, detailed notes that are really the best part of the book. Reading them, you'll learn that Burt Reynolds shows up at the House of Blue Leaves because he turned down the part of Bill in Kill Bill, and there's a giant foot in Willy Wonka's factory because "all six performing members of Monty Python put themselves forward for the role of Willy." This kind of trivia is great fun, and the format is perfect for it. Unfortunately, the creators took it too far, adding unrelated figures (E.T., Predator, Alex from A Clockwork Orange) on the flimsiest pretexts.

The end result is a book that, however diverting, feels too chaotic. Maybe that's supposed to echo the spirit of The Big Lebowski, a movie bursting with idiosyncrasies. Maybe it doesn't matter, and the book is just supposed to give a thrill to those fans who think any film would be improved by the presence of the Dude. Either way, once you've located the bathrobed hero in each of these spreads, the rest is mostly ... ludicrous.

Etelka Lehoczky has written about books for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and Salon.com. She tweets at @EtelkaL.