Tuesday 18 October 2011

Movie Review: Easy Rider (1969)

And this is how the 1960s ended.

Easy Rider is the punctuation mark at the end of a decade's worth of social upheaval and rejection of traditional norms. Living the life of freedom translates to riding the open highway on mammoth motorcycles, smoking weed, dealing drugs, smoking weed, visiting communes, smoking weed, landing in jail, smoking weed, being met with suspicion by every establishment man, smoking weed, exploring a whorehouse, smoking weed, and attracting lustful women by the mere fact of existing.

Dennis Hopper directed, Peter Fonda produced, and together with Terry Southern, they co-wrote the Easy Rider script. And as the laid back Captain America (Fonda) and the more highly strung Billy (Hopper), they gave life to two iconic characters. Their most memorable travelling companion is George Hanson (Jack Nicholson), a hard-drinking, philosophical son of influential parents, quick to abandon his life and join a trek to New Orleans.

Easy Rider is a buddy road movie, exploring the alternative life of checking-out and specifically the end-result of all the rule-breaking. The very thin thread of plot has Captain America and Billy making their way to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, stopping at various off-the-beaten-track locations and picking up an assortment of characters along the way. But the film is really about physically and emotionally breaking away from any expectations and responsibilities, with no shortage of open-highway, landscape-rolling-by shots, interrupted by discussions about what it means live by no rules and the consequences of spinning away and creating unique orbits.

Nicholson had been making movies since 1958, but in a star-making role he brings a just slightly unhinged intensity to the quest for freedom, viewing life through the thick lens at the bottom of the bottle and quickly cutting through all the nonsense. Fonda and Hopper allow Nicholson to have the final say on a convulsing nation's split attitude:

Hanson: 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.

The other two stand-out stars are the two monstrous motorcycles, custom-built for the movie and either destroyed or stolen during filming. With roaring engines, Hopper and Fonda pessimistically present the quest for individuality as enjoying its moments but doomed to tragic failure, fabric woven over many years proving inhospitable to upstart freedom seekers. 

Easy Rider is a nontraditional adventure, and a prescient generational eulogy.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.


  1. I was bit surprised to see it's 5 stars.
    I will not lie - the movie is atmospheric, but it does take a step back from the "traditional story-telling" of a movie.

    Apart from this, it does present in hard lines "bad" and "good", has some weird psychedelic shots here and there.

    Overall I wouldn't say I regret watching it, but I wouldn't call it necessarily a "good" movie either.
    I guess one shouldn't expect too much from it.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting! It's a weird and different movie to be sure. Whether the movie intended it or not, I really enjoyed the portrayal of the soul of the 1960s hitting a brick wall at the end of the decade, crushed like roadkill by overpowering reality.


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