Jeff Bridges searches for peace in Trump's America, come 'Hell or High Water'

jeff bridges

Jeff Bridges wants us to put a check on our aggression.

"We point fingers at people, we point fingers at [Donald] Trump, he points fingers at people. How are we going to come together and realize that we're on this little dust spec in space, you know? Things are finite here, you know. How are we going to work together to make the most beautiful existence that we can, you know?"

Speaking to CNNMoney from his home in Montecito, Calif., Bridges sounds like a more spiritual version of 'The Dude', the character he famously played in "The Big Lebowski." He speaks of zen and peace and quotes Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and calls for patience and understanding among all Americans.

"That's what I think is needed today, to kind of put a check on ourselves and knowing what's right or wrong and being so sure that Trump is an asshole and that he's going to be terrible and all this," Bridges says. "You can have very strong opinions, but to go after this peace and this beauty that we're after I think we gotta show up and give a little space for something beautiful to bloom out of it."

"As the Dude might say," he adds, "'this aggression will not stand.'"

Already an Oscar winner, Bridges just received his seventh Academy Award nomination for his performance as Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton in "Hell or High Water," a Western heist film about two brothers who rob banks to save their family ranch.

It's actually this character, more than the zen slacker-bowler Bridges plays in "Lebowski," who might inspire some of the patience and understanding Bridges talks about.

At a time when Hollywood and rural America seem to be on opposing sides of a cultural divide, "Hell or High Water" is a rare art house sensation that appeals to audiences in both red-state Texas and Oklahoma (where the film takes place) and deep-blue Los Angeles and New York. Distributed by CBS Films and Lionsgate, it is one of the highest grossing independent films of 2016, bringing in $27 million nationally on a $12-million budget.

"Hell or High Water" succeeded not only because it is a good film -- it also picked up Oscar nominations for best picture, best original screenplay and best film editing this week -- but because it offers something many Americans can get behind: a celebration of rugged individualism in the face of exploitative financial institutions.

In the Texas of "Hell or High Water," billboards advertising fast-cash loans dot the land. The brothers, we soon learn, are robbing the same bank that drove their late mother into debt through reverse mortgage. One witness to a robbery says the bank in question "has been robbing me for 30 years." Hamilton's partner, a half-Comanche ranger played by Gil Birmingham, likens the banks' takeover of Americans' homes to the early American armies that took the land from his ancestors.

That's not to say there are clear heroes and villains. Everyone in the film is selfish and self-interested, in one form or another, and one of the things Bridges loves about the film is that ambiguity.

"A lot of people are saying this is the movie of our times -- it represents what we're going through currently -- but for my money that's how human beings have rolled since the beginning of time, you know," Bridges says. "We're very selfish folks. One of the themes is this idea of looking out for only your own self interests -- whether you're a bank ripping people off, or you're farmers robbing banks to protect your family, or you're oil companies or whatever -- that sort of selfish act has consequences."

This conflict between Bridges' hopes for peace and the inherent selfishness of man are what lead him to Solzhenitsyn, the famous Russian writer who spoke out against Soviet communism and the Gulag.

Bridges reads the quote in full: "'If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?'"

And that's what gets Bridges back to thinking about life in the era of President Trump.

"In these times, with Trump being in office and everything he's proposing, and how people are reacting to it, it's very stimulating times," he says. "That's where the movie leaves us: What are we going to do with this situation that we find ourselves in?"

For now, Bridges is encouraging people to practice what his friend and co-author Bernie Glassman refers to as the first tenant of the Zen Peace Makers: "Not Knowing."

"That means come to things not knowing really what is the right path. Like the Dude says, 'Well, that's just your opinion man.' It's impossible not to have an opinion, you're going to have an opinion about things, but just take it as an opinion. Don't take it as, you know, this is the shit, this is what's true," he says.

"We don't know what's right and wrong, you know, completely, it's our opinion," he continues. "And then bear witness. Just be with these people who feel opposite than you, and just kind of be with this uncomfortable feeling, like, what are we going to do? If you spend enough time in that situation, not knowing yourself, not having such a strong opinion that you can't hear anybody else, some kind of loving action will come out of that."


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