Easy Rider review by Tom Blain
Counter Culture Experience
I can imagine viewing Easy Rider now in the year 2002 is quite different than watching it in 1969. The third time I saw it, was with my dad. He told me he saw it 2-3 times when it first came out. Somewhere along the line he took a date to see it. When she laughed at the final scene when Captain America was shot, my father knew he would never ask her out again. By that statement alone (whether my dad was serious or not), I can imagine this movie spoke in volumes about the tension in America at the time. I am not sure I can do the film justice by talking about "that time" since I was raised in the 80s and 90s but I will try wrap it up as best I can.
The two protagonists in the film, Billy and Wyatt (aka Captain America), take off a cross country bike trip with the money they made from selling cocaine. Mardi Gras is their final destination, but for Captain America it seems to be something deeper. He mentions finding 'America' and his calm, observant behavior reveals he is taking everything in. Billy on the other hand seems to be more spontaneous and sort of 'goes with the flow.'
Billy and Wyatt's counter-culture life-style poses as a problem for some of the people they encounter in the film. Because of their looks they are discriminated against at a number of places (they are turned away at a hotel, ignored by waitresses at a restaurant, and ultimately killed). What others are threatened by is the freedom that they represent. Freedom of expression (evident by their clothes), freedom from the government (although not completely; they were thrown in jail), and freedom from the economy (by living in a commune) seem to pose a threat to conservative America. So much so that it destroys them in the end.
Strong comparisons are drawn between Wyatt and Billy and cowboys from old 50s western films. They are outlaws, who live on the road and sleep outside by campfire. Instead of horses however, they ride their motorcyles. In one scene they are even making repairs to one of their bikes while the same is being done to a farmers horse. The camera cuts between the two to show the similarities. Even their names Wyatt and Billy can be derived from Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid.
The freedom that Billy and Wyatt exhibit during their quest to find 'America' is what makes the film so enjoyable to watch. They attempt to experience America in total freedom from its controlling forces. That is something many of us with monthly bills, and 9 to 5 jobs can identify with. As freewheeling as it is in parts, Easy Rider ends on a down note. Captain America, mentions in a vague manor that they have 'failed', possibly meaning they didnt find 'America'. The reason maybe because they found many parts of America to be quite oppresive and closed minded, so much so that it killed the both of them.
Unnngh! I am kinda unhappy with this review but it has consumed me for so long. I just want to post it and move on. I appologize.
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