"Living a lie," seems a tad too dramatic of a way of admitting that I had never seen The Big Lebowski. I mean, I never technically lied to anyone about this. No one has ever asked me if I've seen The Big Lebowski because, at this point, everyone just assumes that I have seen The Big Lebowski.
Actually, considering the cultural phenomenon that The Big Lebowski is today, most people assume that everyone has seen The Big Lebowski by this point. Perhaps that was almost true. Perhaps I was the last one left. Regardless, this past Friday, I finally watched The Big Lebowski.
And the thing is, I never had anything against The Big Lebowski. In other words: it's not like I went out of my way not to see it out of some sort of spite or anything like that. I can actually still remember the day it premiered 15 years ago. I was in that "done with college, but not really working yet" stage of my life -- so I found myself with plenty of time to take in a Friday matinee. Anyway, I remember deciding between The Big Lebowski and U.S. Marshals. At the time, this seemed like a fairly benign decision, I certainly never thought that picking U.S. Marshals would be a decision that haunted me for the rest of my life.
In the summer of 2000, "The Dude" popped up on my caller ID. (Related: remember landline caller ID?) I had no idea who "The Dude" was or why anyone with the name "The Dude" would be calling me on a Saturday afternoon. Regardless, this was the first and not the last time that I would not understand a reference from The Big Lebowski. (In a somewhat elaborate scheme, my friend Jorge had convinced the phone company that he had a son who had a name pronounced "Tay Duday," which was spelled "The Dude." It took Jorge five attempts at this before the phone company finally gave in and changed his caller ID to "The Dude.")
You see, no one ever changed his or her caller ID to read "John Royce." (I suppose I should explain that John Royce was the Robert Downey Jr. character in U.S. Marshals.) Over the next 13 years, I would be subjected to an onslaught of references that I did not understand. On one occasion, an entire evening was spent around a person who quoted the line, "shut the fuck up, Donnie," relentlessly. (A later reference to The Dude clued me in on what this line was from.) I would smile. I would feign laughter. Once, I even added a, "That's hilarious," in an attempt to fit in.
You see, no one ever quotes from U.S. Marshals.
Look, I get it. And I can only imagine this is what other people feel when I start spouting off esoteric lines from The Empire Strikes Back like "E chu ta," -- which, roughly translated, means, "shut the fuck up, Donnie." I know, I could just watch the movie, but I felt so far behind on this one. Remember that episode of Cheers when Sam Malone reads War and Peace in an effort to impress Diane's ex-fiancé, Sumner? Then Sam goes out of his way to "talk some War and Peace" in every conversation, only no one cared? This is what I envisioned happening to me after finally watching The Big Lebowski. (Yes, I'm aware that this may have come true with this piece.)
It's weird watching a movie for the first time that is already adored by so many -- especially a cult classic. (And Especially a cult classic directed by the Coen brothers.) There's an inherent pressure to like the movie that doesn't normally exist. As in, if I don't like it, perhaps something is wrong with me. Perhaps I was never meant to be in on the joke.
I laughed out loud twice. (Specifically when The Dude makes a reference to "the royal we" and when Donnie's ashes blow back onto The Dude.) I don't mean that in any sort of negative context. I thought the movie was fine -- it was certainly entertaining. (To be fair, I watched it by myself on an iPad, which is admittedly not the most ideal presentation.) But now the references make me even more forlorn because, now, I know for a fact I'm not in the club. I'll never be someone who understands why someone would spend countless hours changing his caller ID to The Dude. I am way too late to this party and I think - even though I had a nice enough time at the party - at this point I was just better off not coming to the party at all. I needed to be in on this way before now.
If only I hadn't picked U.S. Marshals.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.