Jeff Bridges talks about the Dude, the planet, and whatever else crosses his mind

The Dude abides, just no longer in Santa Barbara.

The Big Lebowski star Jeff Bridges recently lost his home there during a thousand-year flood, the kind that now seem to come every few years.

Biblical volumes of water flattened his home, now a ruin strewn with boulders bigger than John Goodman.

Bridges doesn’t know whether he’ll rebuild. And he doesn’t know whether  the disaster was caused by climate change or just Mother Nature in a really bad mood.

“I can’t say if the whole thing was due to climate change. Who knows? But it does kind of get your attention,” he said.

The actor has been thinking attentively about the environment for a while now, and some of those thoughts end up in the offbeat new nature documentary Living in the Future’s Past, screening Saturday in Philadelphia as part of the Philadelphia Environmental Film Festival.

Bridges narrates the movie, which displays his folksy knack for mixing explanation with persuasion.

He’s a good talker, disarming and charming even when dropping names — in making a case for protecting the environment, he casually mentions his friendship with a guy named Bucky, known to the rest of us as R. Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the geodesic dome and other innovations.

“Bucky,” Bridges explained, invented the “trim tab” for naval vessels and other large ships — a small appendage affixed to a rudder that makes course corrections without the constant micromanaging of a human operator.

Trim-tabbing, man.

It’s a good way to look at the environment, and our role in it.

“The point is that a small thing can affect a big thing. And I think we can all do a little trim-tabbing. The problem of the environment seems like something too big for any one person to have an impact. But there is something we all can do, and I think what the movie wants is for us to think about doing it,” he said.

Bridges, for instance, became a beekeeper on his Santa Barbara spread, though he lost all his hives to the flood. He’s taken plastic out of his life and buys things with a mind to products that are sustainable and do not require the use of fossil fuels.

“I mean, forget about global warming, and just think about the plastic water bottle. What a [crappy] idea, right? A bottle that you throw away every single time you need water? You get a metal bottle, you reuse it, and if enough people do that, you don’t end up with a giant garbage vortex in the middle of the ocean,” said Bridges, who does this on movie sets, and sees to it that others do as well.

Trim-tabbing!

The title of Living in the Future’s Past is a nod to how future generations will perceive our actions today. To that end, the movie advocates out-of-the-box thinking about the Earth, our species, and their relationship. It’s not an angry piece of advocacy or a lecture.

“There was already enough finger-pointing, yammering about bad people doing bad things. We didn’t want to do that. We wanted to take a little different angle. What are the subconscious and evolutionary traits that guide our behavior? It’s not about sides, or good people versus bad people,” Bridges said.

The film draws on philosophers, evolutionary biologists, and others who talk about the human superorganism (like a supersized ant colony) altering the environment as an entity in ways that can make any one human feel overwhelmed.

But one needn’t be, says Bridges, who closes the movie with a monologue about the importance of taking action.

“It’s not about donating 20 bucks to a cause, scratching that guilt itch. It’s about figuring out what you’re good at — everybody’s really good at something — and applying the skill to helping the planet, this amazing gift that we’ve been given,” Bridges said.

The movie, and Bridges, are big on the idea of “emergent behavior.”

“Yeah, man!” he said, revving up. “Behavior or a system that does not depend on an individual, but on the individuals’ relationship to one another. We live in this age and this time where you’re getting all this [crappy] news about the caps melting and the climate changing, and all these scientific reports about it, and we don’t think we can do anything. But everyone can do something. Trim-tabbing! Emergent behavior. What can I do to get this thing headed in the direction that I’ll like it to go?”

He sounds very much like the Dude, and his documentary arrives, by chance, on the 20th anniversary of perhaps Bridges’ most beloved movie, The Big Lebowski.

I asked him about his first collaboration with the Coen brothers.

That led to more name-dropping.

“I was having dinner with [Buddhist spiritualist] Ram Dass and Bernie Glassman, the Zen master, and they were talking The Big Lebowski, and all the Zen stuff that’s in it, and I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ ” said Bridges, who went on to explore those ideas and who incorporated them in a book that he coauthored with Glassman, The Zen and the Dude, about Buddhist themes in movie.

“I later invited Bernie to the set of True Grit, where he met Joel and Ethan [Coen], and Bernie’s hitting them with all this Zen stuff,” Bridges recalled of the one-sided conversation. “They’re like, ‘Sorry, but that wasn’t on our minds at all.’ ”

MOVIES

Living in Future's Past

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