Easy Rider (1969) is really about the end of the hippies
When describing Marlon Brando’s The Wild One, I didn’t think much of Easy Rider (1969) by comparison. However, this movie is a little more than just a simple rebellious, anti-establishment movie, because it’s got symbolism, political overtones, long shots of motorcycle riding, accompanied by ROCK N’ ROLL! I am guessing hippies danced up and down the aisles as this movie rolled on the big screen, but this movie doesn’t treat them very well. Hippies crash and burn in this movie, but it has something larger to say about liberalism and where society is going. The music also hints at other thematic overtones and crap. PEACE MAN!
The first song in the movie is “The Pusher” by Steppenwolf, which pretty much characterizes our hippy, biker heroes. Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper last worked together on The Trip (1967), but they pull together a deeper performance here. Dennis Hopper does a much better job in this one than on The Trip.
The Pusher echoes their free-wheeling lifestyle. On their roadtrip, they stop at a ranch and start to contemplate America. They talk to some cowboys, who are much more than simple ranchers. They are skilled craftsmen and smart businessmen, a clever juxtaposition, but they are struggling to get by. The ranchers offer a place for Hopper and Fonda on their farm, but our heroes can’t be chained down.
The Weight is an easy song that characterizes the American South, somewhat opposite in tone to Born to be Wild, which you can hear earlier in the movie. The Weight reinforces ties with liberal culture and free spirit. The guys pick up a drifter and give him a ride, cause they’re nice like that, which is the tone of the song, pretty much.
The movie also heavily makes fun of conservative law enforcement and authority. Most of the middle section of the movie is devoted to this. Hopper and Fonda are thrown in jail for parading without a permit, which is pretty hilarious. Jack Nicholson rescues our heroes and joins up with our hippy pals. His dialogue later clues us in on how this movie feels about the state of society. You can imagine what he says.
When I said Marlon Brando defined an on-screen rebel, I was half-right, because Fonda and Hopper take it to a whole other level. The movie isn’t so much about how rebels live, but how they can’t find happiness, and the movie metaphorically crushes their lifestyle under the boot of intolerance, symbolizing the end of the hippy movement. The South literally rises up and guns them down, as some rednecks shoot them on the road, for no good reason.
The only complaint I have is how heavy-handed some of the symbolism is, as it elevates the hippies to hero status and then beats them down like religious martyrs. The movie shows us that hippies aren’t hurting anybody. They pray to God. They are kind to their kids and some of them work the land. It’s society that’s evil.
Overall, this is a good movie, and the best scenes feature Jack Nicholson. However, a lot of it sags with politically laced dialogue and the pace is sometimes uneven, as the guys ponder life and smoke some pot. Like The Trip, there are some surreal sequences, and I wonder if this is what hippies were really like.
How many religious metaphors can you spot? What’s the allegory in this movie? Why does this movie deal out so much punishment to innocent men? Can free love fit in today’s society? The movie tries to answer all these questions. Honestly, you can watch this movie for any number of things: to spot metaphors, for the soundtrack, or just to see Nicholson, Hopper, and Fonda team up for a trip, literally and metaphorically.