84. Easy Rider (1969)

“Two counterculture bikers travel from Los Angeles to New Orleans in search of America.”

Easy Rider is probably one of the most accurate representations of the line drawn between the culture and the counterculture in America in the 1960s and 1970s. Given, I was not alive during this era to show that this is true. I do, however, know plenty of people who were alive then and who’ve seen this movie and, after discussing this film with them, turns out it really is an accurate representation of the time. And that is terrifying because, as this film points out, it was a very dangerous line that had been drawn.

I did not expect the film to end the way that it did, but the ending really drives home the point that there was a divide within our culture, one that was dangerous. Billy and Wyatt in the end aren’t bothering anybody. They aren’t doing anything wrong. They are just riding their motorcycles, heading to Florida, minding their own business. They are the counterculture. Then, two men show up in their pickup truck and decide that they want to “scare the hell outta them”. And this just absolutely baffles me, because Billy and Wyatt aren’t bothering a single soul. One man shoots both of them and then, the film ends. It’s sudden and unexpected and you don’t really know what to do other than to just let it sink in what has just happened and the reasons behind why it happened.

This film was one of the very first to have a soundtrack, as we know soundtracks today. It used music that had already been released as opposed to having music scored specifically for the film. The end result is one of the best soundtracks to a film that I have ever heard. It’s a soundtrack that gives you a real feel for the film.

You also get a feel for this film from the beautiful landscapes of the American south that are used. I mean, they are absolutely beautiful. It makes you want to go out on the road and see all that beauty for yourself. Because, goodness knows, you can only capture so much of that beauty on film.

There’s a major theme of freedom in this film and that is made clear right from the beginning, when Billy and Wyatt first get on their bikes and Wyatt throws his watch into the dirt, leaving it there. They aren’t constrained by time, like the rest of society. They are just living day to day. They are free. Jack Nicholson’s character, George, says it best in the film:

“They’re not scared of you. They’re scared of what you represent to ’em… Oh, no. What you represent to them is freedom… Oh, yeah, that’s right. That’s what’s it’s all about, all right. But talkin’ about it and bein’ it, that’s two different things. I mean, it’s real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the marketplace. Of course, don’t ever tell anybody that they’re not free, ’cause then they’re gonna get real busy killin’ and maimin’ to prove to you that they are. Oh, yeah, they’re gonna talk to you, and talk to you, and talk to you about individual freedom. But they see a free individual, it’s gonna scare ’em.”

In terms of the technical part of the film, I think the LSD sequence in the cemetery is beautifully done. Simply by using quick editing cuts and overlapping audio, Hopper, who wrote, starred, and directed the film, was able to really create a sense of chaos, with a bit of hopelessness thrown in. And it was really effective. The film, overall, has a very particular feel to it and is very stylistic when it comes to editing. I also enjoy the fact that the Mardi Gras scenes and the LSD cemetery scenes were shot using 16 mm film instead of 35 mm film. The graininess that the 16 mm film creates gave a home-video-esque feel to those scenes which, in a way, integrated the viewer more into the film.

Jack Nicholson’s performance in this film may be one of my favorite performances of his. He’s only in a supporting role, but he definitely makes the most of it. I think that I find his death to be the most heartbreaking of them all. He dies at the hands of some “townies” (for lack of a better term) right outside of a town that the three men had stopped at earlier to get a bite to eat. Tensions were high in the restaurant and there was a lot of judgement on the “townies” part. Repeatedly, one said “I don’t think they’ll make the parish line”. All of these small town people had a preconceived notion about these men, and about who they were and what they represent, which is why they went after them in the middle of the night and beat George to death. It made me sad mainly because George had repeatedly tried to go to Mardi Gras. It was something that he really wanted, and he was finally on his way there. He was so close.

I feel like this is one of those films that I could write pages and pages about because the more I think about the film that I just watched, the more I find that I want to discuss. Unfortunately, it is now after midnight and I have to be up in roughly 8 hours to go to work, so I must stop here.

Grade: A-

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