If there’s one thing I love about America, it’s exploring the vast landscape through no other means than road tripping. I’ve driven several thousands of miles, solo and it’s the most liberating feeling. From Oregon to Indiana and even train tripping along the east coast to see Virginia and New York, and what other film can I attribute my immense nostalgia to such a feeling? The 1969 guerilla film classic none other and there’s no way in hell rebooting the magic that is EASY RIDER. In fact, it was so revolutionary it sparked the New Hollywood period of filmmaking. Think about all the films that came after or even prior to it such as HELL’S ANGELS (1966) which also starred Peter Fonda. What a time to be a filmmaker!
For all intensive purposes this film is built from a symbolic fortitude which leaves little room for scarce dialogue, extraordinary emphasis on music, and intoxicating imagery. Nonetheless, it’s a road trip story, where two buddies Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) make the mega score and are going to ride their way deep into a paradisiacal sunset. The undertone in this gem of a film rides heavily in a subdued warm, rare slice of reality that most viewers become overwhelmed paralleling this yearning for such an adventure. Or at least, I was. I miss road tripping places. America in all her pockets of civilizations are in fact scattered across deserts, prairies, mountains, and lustrous communes where hippies welcome the riders into their custom way of life in the land of the free. Everyone has their modus of operandi for living a good life, and even though it may seem similar on the surfaces there are differences which makes this so damn profound. The riders, nonetheless have their own significance for doing what they’re doing; rejecting the system, be fearless, live free all bundled together like some enchanting recipe for wishful thinking.
It’s even hinted in the tagline, “A man went looking for America and couldn’t find it anywhere.” If only America knew how to co-exist with everyone’s competing ideologies without violence, discrimination, and reckless politics. If only we can go back to the “greater good of all people” mantra instead of building off of self-interest, antisocial, filter-bubble somewhat induced, “it’s all about me, fend for yourself” mantra and perhaps this is the price of freedom?
It goes without saying, EASY RIDER is a time capsule for it’s time period as Dennis Hopper has stated while editing the film, he would be listening to the radio which would spark the idea to incorporate found music as the final score. Simplistic genius. This is probably why “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf is so mind-blowingly iconic. It’s the ultimate road trip song when travelling across this star-spangled promise of a land.
Everywhere can’t be the same and that’s what makes this country such an interesting environment, the clashing of religion, sex, politics, and culture all living among each other regardless of what region, ethnicity, and sex we’re still to this day trying to find a way to co-exist with each other. It is the continuous struggle we bare upon our backs and one wonders how we’re going to end up in the end or how future generations will look at the past few decades. There’s on intriguing piece of dialogue Wyatt says to Billy that most theorize as a foreshadowing meaning behind, “we blew it” falls on their self-serving shoulders. It foretells the jaw-dropping ending, that’s a given, but my guess is it resides around the fact that these two riders’ adventure is a prodigy of one’s own pursuit of happiness disregarding all the consequences for their actions. For instance, the character of George Hansen (Jack Nicholson), buys into the riders’ adventure, tagging along with them to New Orleans and what happens to his character? He never makes it to New Orleans to join in on the party of paradise. Isn’t that compelling? So the riders party on on his behalf splurging on the remains of his money. It’s tragic, but also another big foretelling of our rider’s journey all because of intolerance from a small town of people that are on one hand intrigued yet want nothing to do with them. You have the teenage girls on one side of the diner along with the older, white male cohort on the other side all ready to slug them to hell. While the riders sit waiting to for a freaking menu and are being ignored. What a contrast!
So going back to the tagline, in piecing together meaning behind this entire adventure is conflicting because the spectrum of this film goes from peace, love, fear, and hate just as the sporadic nature of climate, it’s constantly changing and that change is pretty jarring. So, in a way America is constantly changing, it has to, it’s the only way forward otherwise if we go backwards we’re doomed to repeat history.
EASY RIDER will remain an iconic classic for it’s assertion and disillusioned take on the American Dream, however, its power is simply reflecting a somewhat distorted reflection and perhaps philosophical representation into the different lifestyles we cultivate. I’ll always admire the insane montage of the acid-tripping graveyard scene as a spectator never as one to partake in such a crazy idea. Mind altering drugs scare the hell out of me. But given the footage was shot on a 16mm Bolex just makes my heart skip a beat and that’s total bliss to me.
Happy 4th of July! Don’t let ignorance shoot you down, stay safe, be kind, celebrate, and enjoy the glorious sunshine along with the spirit of comradery most barbeques bring together. And finally reflect on what liberty really means. Cheers!