Summer is in full swing, bringing the return of a classic American vacation staple: the road trip. Many movies have put their own spin on a road trip, but one of my favorite road movies is the 1969 film Easy Rider. It’s known as one of the definitive movies of the 1960’s counterculture and is a classic in its own right, but does it translate well today? Polish your motorcycles and grab your helmets, let’s drive on in!
Directed by Dennis Hopper, Easy Rider follows bikers Billy (Dennis Hopper) and Wyatt, aka Captain America (Peter Fonda) on a road trip to New Orleans after a successful drug deal. The two men drive through America trying to find a sense of belonging. As they travel, they meet an assortment of people, like lawyer George Hanson (Jack Nicholson), who seek an alternate life. After a harrowing ordeal in Louisiana, the two men fear they’ll never find peace in American society.
Easy Rider takes heavy inspiration from the French New Wave movement. For instance, the film shies away from a motivated plot. Rather, Easy Rider meanders. It chooses to take long pauses, allowing for some intimacy with our characters. Easy Rider also takes a page on plot structure from Vivre sa vie. Vivre sa vie centers on a young woman her descent into prostitution in 12 sections. Easy Rider divides itself into 3 unnamed sections. The first is optimistic, embracing alternative lifestyles of others in a commune, the second introduces George, a lawyer and surrogate for the audience/everyday people and more intense bigotry. The third and final part of the film is more depressing and artistic, encapsulating our heroes feelings of not fitting into American life.
This is the second time I’ve seen Easy Rider, and I am very impressed with the cinematography. My favorite moments were when Billy and Wyatt were traveling. It wasn’t the sharp cinematography you would see in a film like Arrival, rather, it felt like an old, well done home movie. The colors were soft, yet vibrant. It gave me an intense desire to jump into something with wheels and drive with no destination in mind. It also gives a feeling of being on drugs with the leads. It’s not secret that pot was smoked both on and off set, and the cinematography seeks to inadvertently mimic that feeling. It’s really clear during a sequence with LSD in New Orleans. It feels smudged and trippy.
Overall, Easy Rider is one of those movies I think about a lot, even after finishing it. It makes you think about the world about the similarities of the past and the present. I still think about George’s speech about freedom often. It’s potent and really interesting. It helped kick off a new generation of Hollywood, which in turn altered the way we see movies. For that, I give Easy Rider an A-. It’s certainly not a movie for everyone. It’s one of those movies that is more focused on being artistic and having commentary than having a streamlined plot and goal-oriented characters. I highly recommend hopping aboard that motorcycle. You just might enjoy the trip.
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