Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Dude’s Next Act

“I used to be somebody…now I’m somebody else.”
- Jeff Bridges as Bad Blake in the “Crazy Heart”

We’ve written about our affection for the Dude. Jeff Bridges, as it turns out, is pretty dude-like himself.

His latest movie is called “Crazy Heart.” It’s about a down and out country singer. The movie got a glowing review today in the Wall Street Journal and we’re putting it on our “must see” list.

Albert Camus used the example of the actor to illustrate features of the absurd life. “The actor’s realm is that of the fleeting,” Camus wrote in The Myth of Sisyphus. He plays many roles, slipping easily into different lives. He deals in the illusion of self and identity. A skilled actor is, in a way, a skilled illusionist.

Critic Pauline Kael once said Bridges "may be the most natural and least self-conscious screen actor that has ever lived." Perhaps his absurdist views help him in this regard. And playing the roles he’s played probably also helps him see the absurd.

Bridges talked about his role in a recent interview here. In the interview, Bridges talks about the line we quote up top.

He says: “I love that line in the first song: "I used to be somebody, now I'm somebody else." I think when Bad wrote that song he was probably thinking, I used to be famous and now I'm on the bottom of the heap. But you can flip that around: I used to be an alcoholic and now I'm looking up. You don't have to be who you think you are.”

We think that’s right. You don’t have to be who you think you are. In fact, who you think you are is a powerful illusion. You are only a bundle of nerves and tissues and bones. A strange loop. If so, then (with some effort and time, we realize) you can, to a large extent, change yourself. You can “play” different roles.

We – Rick and Inigo – often play this kind of game with each other. We’ll say how we are “playing the role of someone going to a meeting.” We find it a helpful way to remember the absurd. (And it also makes for interesting meetings. Amazing what one sees when one consciously plays a role with the absurd in mind.)

Or the absurd can help you just accept the way the things are. That’s a key part of the absurd, too. Simple acceptance.

We liked this exchange in the interview, which again channels some absurdity.

WSJ: In what ways do you channel The Dude in your life?

Bridges: I think on a good day I'm feeling pretty comfortable in my skin, digging myself just the way I am. That's probably Dude-ish. I do my best to not work.

WSJ: Has that laid-back approach come with age?

Bridges: Unlike a lot of actors, my father [veteran TV actor Lloyd Bridges] really loved all aspects of showbiz and encouraged his kids to go into it. Like most kids, I didn't want to do what my parents wanted me to. I had 10 movies under my belt before I decided this is what I want to do. I always had a capricious way of taking my roles—this attitude of, "I don't know if I really want to do this." That's still my attitude. I do it for my own enjoyment.

There is some hard won wisdom, we think. The absurd man also aims for that acceptance. The absurd man also needs no purpose nor does he layer his work with meaning. To do what one wants to do for the sake of enjoyment is reason enough.

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