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In Bruce we trust: 'Blinded by the Light' immerses you in the healing power of The Boss

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Viveik Kalra stars as a British teenager in 1987 whose life is changed when he hears the tunes of Bruce Springsteen in “Blinded by the Light.”
USA TODAY

When the world turns crazy, you turn to The Boss.

From cultural strife and political turmoil to climate crises and child separation at the border, it’s all pretty inescapable these days. Between the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, and potential threats that hit too close to home, there’s a palpable feeling of unease that’s hard to shake.

So how about powering off the talking heads and constant arguments on cable news, logging out of Twitter and going to see “Blinded by the Light” (★★★½ out of four; rated PG-13; in theaters nationwide Friday)? While the outside might still be a bit of a dumpster fire when you get out, it’ll remind you of the importance of chasing dreams and loving yourself as well as others.

‘Blinded by the Light’: This Springsteen superfan has been to 150 shows and now he has a movie

Surprise! Bruce Springsteen shows up at ‘Blinded by the Light’ premiere

The big screen has always been used as a great escape, but director Gurinder Chadha’s wonderfully feel-good film is different than the likes of an “Avengers: Endgame.” Inspired by a very cool true story, “Blinded by the Light” features a relatable Pakistani Muslim teenager who has to save his own universe, facing problems in 1987 that are still very real in 2019, though he’s powered heart and soul by the tunes of Bruce Springsteen.

The promised land of London feels so far away to Javed (Viveik Kalra) from his working-class hometown of Luton. He harbors dreams of being a poet and a writer, though he hasn’t found his voice yet. He grows apart from his childhood best friend (Dean-Charles Chapman) as personalities and musical tastes change. His traditional father (Kulvinder Ghir) works in a factory during a down economic time and can be overbearing – he wants Javed to study hard so he can get a good job, and views his son’s writing as a “hobby.” Javed sees xenophobia all around him, whether it’s a skinhead spray painting “Pakis Out” on a wall or laughing little kids urinating through the mail slot of a family friend’s home. 

It’s all a little much for Javed. But right when he needs it the most, Springsteen comes into his life – or, more accurately, gets dropped in front of him via cassette tape. Javed meets Sikh classmate Roops (Aaron Phagura), a denim-clad, turban-wearing Springsteen acolyte who preaches the gospel of The Boss, and Javed instantly finds a deep connection with the American from Asbury Park, New Jersey: “It’s like Bruce knows everything I’ve ever felt, everything I’ve ever wanted.”

As Springsteen’s words magically swirl around Javed onscreen and get ingrained in his spirit, he goes on a journey of self-discovery to find his place in this mixed-up world as well as within his own struggling, loving family.

That road is tough, too, as Javed’s sister has a wedding day that coincides with the extreme-right National Front marching through the streets, brandishing closed fists and open hate, while equally defiant counterprotesters and innocent bystanders get caught in the melee. The scene is a reminder of white nationalism’s rise in present day and specifically the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally and death of Heather Heyer two years ago this week. 

But “Blinded by the Light” combats anger with understanding and fights intolerance with joyful noise. When a writing contest gives Javed a chance to visit America – and drop by Asbury Park – he’s greeted by a burly customs agent who’s psyched the kid’s hitting up Springsteen’s hometown rather than giving him side eye.

It’s safe to assume that when Springsteen wrote, “Everybody’s got a hungry heart,” he didn’t have a certain skin color in mind. His music, the stuff that changes Javed’s life, speaks to a legion of loyal fans and a newer generation who can relate to his infectious, revolutionary spirit of breaking free from what binds us. In that sense, “Blinded by the Light” isn’t a cure-all, but could be a salve to those who could use the healing.

In one of the movie’s most memorable scenes, Javed and his activist love interest Eliza (Nell Williams) embark on a glorious, mischievous romp out of school and through Luton, singing “Born to Run” and dancing with literally everyone who’ll join them. The song is an ode to that youthful yearning to escape toward something better, and these lines that Javed and his friends croon feel like a rallying cry for bringing us all together during divided times: “Together we could break this trap / We’ll run till we drop, baby we’ll never go back.”

Who can argue when The Boss says so?

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Springsteen, third from left, acknowledges fans on the beach in Asbury Park, N.J., after performing at the Convention Hall with the E Street band on July 30, 2002, on NBC’s “Today.” Roy Bittan, left, Clarence Clemons, Springsteen, Patti Scialfa, Steve Van Zandt, Garry Talent, and Danny Federici. Federici, a founding member of the E Street Band, died in 2008 of melanoma. Daniel Hulshizer, APSpringsteen joined the nine-show 2004 Vote for Change concert tour of musical artists hoping to accomplish a single goal: to get people to the polls on Nov. 2 to vote for change. Stone Gossard, left, (Pearl Jam), Boyd Tinsley (Dave Matthews Band), Jackson Browne, Martie Maguire (Dixie Chicks), Steven Van Zandt (Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band), Dave Matthews (Dave Matthews Band), Springsteen, Emily Robison (Dixie Chicks), Patti Scialfa (Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band), Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), Bonnie Raitt, Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie), John Mellencamp, Nick Harmer (Death Cab for Cutie) and Mike Mills (R.E.M.) Danny Clinch, Vote for ChangeSpringsteen walks off the stage with, from left, his aunt Dora Kirby, 90, mother Adele Springsteen, 85, and aunt Ida Urbelis, 87, after being honored at the Ellis Island Family Heritage Awards on April 22, 2010, on Ellis Island in New York. Jason DeCrow, AP

  • It's the Boss's birthday and he's still rocking! Born1 of 58
  • Of course he can work Broadway too, he's the Boss!2 of 58
  • Bruce Springsteen performs with Jake Clemons, left,3 of 58
  • Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performs at4 of 58
  • Bruce Springsteen, right, performs at the Count Basie5 of 58
  • Bruce Springsteen performs during a Hillary Clinton6 of 58
  • He still brings massive crowds. Bruce Springsteen performs7 of 58
  • Longtime friends, Tom Hanks and Bruce Springsteen,8 of 58
  • Bruce Springsteen waves to fans after Tribeca Talks:9 of 58
  • Springsteen often lends his supports to causes he believes10 of 58
  • Bruce keeps his family and friends close. Springsteen,11 of 58
  • Springsteen and wife Patti Scialfa take in the scene12 of 58
  • New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival -- Bruce Springsteen,13 of 58
  • On Sept. 30, Springsteen set a new record for his longest14 of 58
  • The Boss has a busy fall ahead, publishing his memoir15 of 58
  • Springsteen and his longtime saxophone player, Clarence Clemons, are captured in a concert photo that mirrors the cover of the August 1975 album Born To Run during the third stop of the tour promoting the record at Music Inn in Lenox, Mass., on July 23, 1975.16 of 58
  • Springsteen played 10 shows over five nights at The Bottom Line in New York in August 1975. The first night's opening set was aired live on WNEW-FM.17 of 58
  • Springsteen and the E Street Band in a circa 1978 photo promoting the Darkness on the Edge of Town album: Roy Bittan, left, Clarence Clemons, Garry Tallent, Max Weinberg, Springsteen, Miami Steve Van Zandt and Danny Federici.18 of 58
  • Springsteen in concert at the Montreal Forum in November 1978 during the tour supporting the release of the album Darkness on the Edge of Town.19 of 58
  • Springsteen, bottom right, participates in the Jan. 28, 1985, recording of the song We are the World, a benefit single for famine relief in Africa. Nearly four dozen music stars took part in the session. Springsteen also donated a live single, Trapped, for the album release.20 of 58
  • On June 4, 1984, Springsteen released his seventh studio album, Born in the USA. The first single, Dancing in the Dark, became his first video and featured a young Courteney Cox.21 of 58
  • Clarence Clemons and Springsteen perform with The E Street Band at Giants Stadium during the Born in the USA tour on Aug. 21, 1985 in East Rutherford, N.J. Springsteen's buffed up physique was a marked change from the skinny beach bum from 10 years prior.22 of 58
  • Springsteen played to some 300,000 East Germans thirsting for freedom on July 19, 1988, in East Berlin. Years later Springsteen would call it one of the most memorable shows of his career.23 of 58
  • pMTV Unplugged: Bruce Springsteen in Concert (Plugged) was broadcast on Nov. 11, 1992. Keyboard player Roy Bittan and Springsteen's wife Patty Scialfa (pictured) were the only familiar faces in the band. Bruce had chosen to tour with a group of studio musicians and would not play regularly with the rest of the E Street Band again until 1999./p24 of 58
  • Springsteen won the Oscar for best original song for Streets of Philadelphia from the film Philadelphia at the Academy Awards on March 21, 1994. This is the first song I ever wrote for a motion picture, so I guess it's all downhill from here, ya know? Springsteen quipped as he began his thank-you remarks. The late Whitney Houston presented Springsteen with the trophy.25 of 58
  • Springsteen won four Grammys on March 1, 1995, all for Streets of Philadelphia.26 of 58
  • Springsteen and Chuck Berry perform Berry's classic Johnny B. Goode at the opening concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. The foreword to Berry's autobiography is an interview with Springsteen recounting his band backing Berry up at a single concert in the early '70s.27 of 58
  • Clemons, Nils Lofgren, Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt perform on the first night of a series of concerts in his home state of New Jersey during the band's 1999 reunion tour.28 of 58
  • Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band pause for a group photo before a 2001 show. Nils Lofgren, left, Roy Bittan, Steven Zandt, Max Weinberg, Patty Scialfa, Springsteen, Clarence Clemons, Danny Federici and Garry Tallent.29 of 58
  • On July 30, 2002, Springsteen released The Rising. His first studio album with the full E Street Band since 1987, the songs were Springsteen's response to 9/11.30 of 58
  • Springsteen, third from left,  acknowledges fans on the beach in Asbury Park, N.J., after performing at the Convention Hall with the E Street band on July 30, 2002, on NBC's Today. Roy Bittan, left, Clarence Clemons, Springsteen, Patti Scialfa, Steve Van Zandt, Garry Talent, and Danny Federici. Federici, a founding member of the E Street Band, died in 2008 of melanoma.31 of 58
  • Springsteen, Scialfa and Van Zandt perform in Rutherford, N.J., during the Rising tour.32 of 58
  • Just a couple of punks, Springsteen, left, and Elvis Costello perform during a  tribute to Joe Strummer and the Clash at the Grammy Awards on Feb. 23, 2003, in New York.33 of 58
  • Springsteen joined the nine-show 2004 Vote for Change concert tour of musical artists hoping to accomplish a single goal: to get people to the polls on Nov. 2 to vote for change. Stone Gossard, left, (Pearl Jam), Boyd Tinsley (Dave Matthews Band), Jackson Browne, Martie Maguire (Dixie Chicks), Steven Van Zandt (Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band), Dave Matthews (Dave Matthews Band), Springsteen, Emily Robison (Dixie Chicks), Patti Scialfa (Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band), Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), Bonnie Raitt, Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie), John Mellencamp, Nick Harmer (Death Cab for Cutie) and Mike Mills (R.E.M.)34 of 58
  • Springsteen campaigned for presidential candidate John Kerry during a rally at the Columbus campus of Ohio State University on Oct. 28, 2004.35 of 58
  • Springsteen taped a solo acoustic performance for VH1 Storytellers on April 4, 2005, at Two River Theater in Red Bank, N.J. The concert featured Springsteen telling the stories behind the writing of some of his songs.36 of 58
  • Springsteen took the Storytellers format on the road for his Devils amp; Dust tour including a stop in Goteborg, Sweden, on June 23, 2005.37 of 58
  • Springsteen gathered an eclectic assortment of musicians for the April 2006 release, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, a collection of traditional folk songs. Ironically, the album did not include any of Pete Seeger's own compositions.38 of 58
  • Springsteen performs with Steve Earle on the final number during an all-star tribute to his music in New York's Carnegie Hall on April 5, 2007. Funds raised from the concert were used to support music education programs.39 of 58
  • Clarence Clemons and Springsteen perform on NBC's Today in New York's Rockefeller Center. Clemons died from a stroke in Florida at age 69 on June 18, 2011.40 of 58
  • Then the Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, join Springsteen and his wife, Patti Scialfa, onstage during a campaign rally at the Cleveland Mall on Nov. 2, 2008, in Cleveland.41 of 58
  • Springsteen and Mickey Rourke pose with their Golden Globe Awards on Jan 11, 2009. Rourke won the best-actor trophy for The Wrestler and Springsteen best song for the song of the same name.42 of 58
  • Springsteen and the E Street Band  put on a 12-minute-plus show at halftime during the 2009 Super Bowl in Tampa.43 of 58
  • If Clarence Clemons was Springsteen's onstage foil, Steven Van Zant (aka Little Steven and/or Miami Steve) serves as musical consigliere. Here the two get close during the Working On A Dream tour stop in Glendale, Ariz.44 of 58
  • Joan Baez, left, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Scialfa,45 of 58
  • Kennedy Center honorees Bruce Springsteen, right, and Robert De Niro share a smile in the East Room of the White House after receiving their honors on Dec. 6, 2009.46 of 58
  • Springsteen walks off the stage with, from left, his aunt Dora Kirby, 90, mother Adele Springsteen, 85, and aunt Ida Urbelis, 87, after being honored at the Ellis Island Family Heritage Awards on April 22, 2010, on Ellis Island in New York.47 of 58
  • Springsteen joins Sting on stage during STING: 25th Anniversary/60th Birthday Concert to Benefit the Robin Hood Foundation at the Beacon Theatre on Oct. 1, 2011, in New York.48 of 58
  • Springsteen gets props from Joe Walsh, Rusty Anderson and Paul McCartney during the McCartney-led finale at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on Feb. 12, 2012.49 of 58
  • Springsteen delivers the keynote speech at the SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival on March 15, 2012, in Austin.50 of 58
  • Springsteen performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival on April 29, 2012. His song We Take Care of Our Own, off the 2012 release Wrecking Ball, was in part a response to the aftermath of 2005's Hurricane Katrina.51 of 58
  • Carl Beams, volunteer, and visitor Jane Murphy, from Durham, N.H., check out the Bruce Springsteen Special Collection Archive at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J. The school, located near Springsteen's hometown, maintains an archive of more than 15,000 documents.52 of 58
  • Springsteen performs at the sixth annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert for injured service members and veterans on Nov. 8, 2012, in New York. Springsteen's support of veterans dates to the '80s when he began speaking out about Vietnam-era vets.53 of 58
  • A couple of Jersey boys, Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi, perform at 12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief in New York on Dec. 12, 2012. Proceeds from the show were distributed through the Robin Hood Foundation.54 of 58
  • Springsteen performs with Jake Clemons, nephew of the late Clarence Clemons, at the Hard Rock Calling Festival in London on June 30, 2013. Jake proved to be a popular replacement for his uncle at the band's live shows.55 of 58
  • Springsteen, left, and Jimmy Fallon perform a parody version of Springsteen's 1975 song Born to Run with lyrics that reflect on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's involvement in the so-called Ft. Lee bridge scandal on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon on Jan. 14, 2014.56 of 58
  • On April 10, 2014, the members of The E Street Band were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Springsteen was inducted as a solo artist in 1999. Several original band members including Davis Sancious, second from left, and Vini Mad Dog Lopez, were present as well as bassist Garry Tallent, second from right, the only remaining original member of the band.57 of 58
  • Bruce Springsteen performs with the E Street Band on May 17, 2014, at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. It was the next-to-the-last show of a two-year world tour that played nearly 170 dates.58 of 58

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