In June of 2017, the actor Jeff Bridges made some comments about the presidency of Donald J. Trump that struck many of his fans as very un-Dude.
When asked about the Trump administration, Bridges told the AP that unlike so many of his Hollywood contemporaries, he would not be serving up any critical sound bites; rather, the breezy, bearded sexagenarian appeared to offer words of encouragement: “I’m rooting for him to do well by our country.”
Right-wing media sites from Breitbart to TheBlaze, desperate for celebrity morsels, dined out on the quote, painting the actor as one sympathetic to their cause.
That could not be further from the truth. You see, The Dude does not abide by the Trump doctrine.
“A lot of where Trump’s leading us is disappointing to me, and rather than wallowing in my disappointment and throwing up my hands, I’m saying that we’ve gotta get to work,” Bridges tells me. “Come on guys, let’s create the kind of world that we see. If you don’t wanna go in that direction, then come on, let’s head in the other direction. I’m using it to inspire me to take action.”
Indeed, in addition to his work on behalf of the No Kid Hungry campaign to end childhood hunger, environmental conservation, and seat on Everytown for Gun Safety’s creative council, Bridges has produced and narrated the upcoming documentary Living in the Future’s Past, in theaters Oct. 9.
The film, directed by Susan Kucera, offers a decidedly non-partisan look at the dismal state of the environment, featuring some of the country’s leading big-thinkers—philosophers, NASA engineers, former military generals—and of course Bridges himself, guiding the ship with interstitial ruminations like “what we perceive as reality comes from the value judgments that exist in our minds.”
“We’re not pointing fingers at the people who are doing it wrong. We’re all in this together. That’s how we’ve evolved as a species. So we wanted to shine a light on some of these thinkers, philosophers, military guys and get their ideas,” explains Bridges. “My feelings politically are that there are some people on board with the ideas and some people that aren’t. To me, the people that aren’t are inspiring me to get busy and put out my vision of how I think the world should be.”
Bridges says that the title of the film serves as “a metaphor for what’s going on right now,” and though “we’re in dire straits here,” he didn’t want to just make another movie that was about how dire things are, but to “come at it from a different angle to bring the whole thing into sharper focus.” Its sharp 4K footage of the world’s wonders notwithstanding, Living in the Future’s Past posits that we are all part of a super-organism that is in danger of devouring the planet with its myriad desires, and that we must band together to contain it.
When I ask the 68-year-old whether he thinks religion and science are fundamentally at odds with one another, and how, given that a large portion of the population rejects basic scientific tenets like evolutionary biology, we’re supposed to get these people on board with, say, climate change, he pauses to soak it in.
“With religious folks, there are many things that can draw people to take action,” he says. “We should be custodians of our planet. Didn’t the Bible say that? Whatever brings us to the party, man. But bottom line, we should engage—not only by voting, and this is a very important election coming up, but also personally.”
At around 3:30 a.m. on Jan. 9, Bridges’ Montecito, California, home began to “shake like an earthquake.” His wife ran out of their bedroom screaming and clenching their dog. The trio went outside and saw a mudslide heading straight for them. They went to the only dry spot in their front yard, and were eventually airlifted off the property by the Ventura County Air Unit.
“My wife and I experienced climate change recently. We lost a house due to the debris flow from that big fire in Santa Barbara,” says Bridges. “We were both rescued by helicopter. In California, I don’t know how many millions of acres have been burned now but it’s getting pretty crispy in this state.”
“Some people have said, well, since the beginning of the planet the climate has changed, and that’s true,” he continues. “But it hasn’t changed as rapidly as it has now, and plants and animals may not be able to evolve quickly enough. We have this oil that we’ve been able to do brilliant things with, but it’s running out and it’s a toxic form of energy, so at some point we have to shift energies. We should be using that oil to create a new energy structure instead of just whistling while Rome burns.”
Listening to Bridges wax philosophical about the environment is sure to conjure up images of The Dude, his iconic character in the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski. Though the film was met with mixed reviews and middling box office receipts upon its 1998 release, it’s now regarded as a gonzo cult classic—Raymond Chandler by way of Cheech & Chong by way of Salvador Dali.
Bridges says that there’s a lot of himself in The Dude, and he wasn’t so dissimilar in his younger years. Most of the clothing he wore in the film was his, including those vintage T-shirts, that Cowichan cardigan, and, of course, the jellies.
“The jellies I know I have, and the sweater I might have lost during the debris flow, but… oh no, my assistant assures me I still have it!” exclaims Bridges, laughing hysterically.
“I’ve always thought of myself as a spiritually baked guy. Always been interested in those kinds of things,” he adds. “With The Dude, there was a guy I was sitting next to at a dinner party, a fella by the name of Bernie Glassman, he’s a Zen master. And he said to me, ‘You know, in certain Buddhist circles The Dude is considered a Zen master.’ And I said, ‘What the fuck are you talking about? I never talked about Buddhism or anything spiritual in that movie.’ And he said, ‘It’s still the modern-day kōans. Look who wrote it and directed it? The Kōan brothers.’ He felt there were modern-day kōans littered all throughout the movie.”
Glassman and Bridges subsequently co-wrote a book, The Dude and the Zen Master, that analyzes the film through the prism of Buddhism.
There is one question that remains, however: How does Bridges really feel about the Eagles?
“They’re fine by me,” he says with a chuckle.