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Easy Rider

Action & Adventure and Cult Movies movie

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Maybe this is how the American Dream came and went...

  • Jul 14, 2012
**** out of ****

I'm always saying that I watch movies because I want an experience; and the experience itself is like my high. No doubt, most people would say they've got drugs for shit like that; but a movie is either more or less messy, and the long term effects that it can have on you aren't painful. Sometimes they are life-changing and inspiring. This is true to me, and it might not be true to others, but to all whom the truth does apply to; "Easy Rider" is one of those movies that emphasizes that films must be important, provocative, and relevant - just as art should be. Back in 1969, it was something new; and its success in both the box office and with the critical masses kick-started a new age in daring, innovative filmmaking. Today, it is called "dated" and "pretentious" by those who just weren't there at the time of its original release. Back then, it played at drive-ins and was much talked about. It would have been long forgotten if it wasn't good; and even those who don't necessarily love it can give it that much credit.

Such a simple narrative: Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) are a couple of hippie bikers searching for the American dream on an open road. They have just assisted in a cocaine deal by transporting the contents from Mexico to Los Angeles, and now opportunity awaits them. Now they're headed to New Orleans so that they'll get to attend the Mardi Gras festival and perhaps close in on the "dream". The film mostly chronicles the trip there, but more importantly, the people they meet as well. The first is a hitchhiker (Luke Askew) who gets along with the boys because of his shared affinity for marijuana and his hospitality (he lets them stay in the hippie commune in which he lives for a full day). Plus, he gives them LSD so that they may enjoy Mardi Gras whilst riding the twisty wave of an acid high; but warns them that it would be in their best interest to use it at exactly the right time, in the right place, and with the right people.

Then it's on to the most interesting of all the supporting characters, a man who the boys meet in a jail after being locked up by some hippie-hating cops in a small town, named George Hanson (Jack Nicholson). This is a role that only Nicholson could play. George is a well-respected man around town, put in jail like the rest of the dogs presumably for public drunkenness, but kindly and free-spirited; he's "Born to be Wild", like the Mars Bonfire song that plays over the film's opening credits. I'd have to say George provides some of the most genuine and interesting moments that the film has to offer; the conversations that he's able to uphold and provoke with the boys are philosophically rich (although I'd think they're probably what this new generation today refers to as "pretentious").

After a nasty end to their run-in with George, the boys go to a brothel that he had told them about. They take two prostitutes (Karen Black and Toni Basil) with them to the festival, since they're in New Orleans at this point, and in a famous scene; test the limits of the LSD that the hitchhiker gave them earlier on. The acid trip sequence is terrifying and supposedly very true to the nightmare of an acid high. It's probably one of the film's most famous scenes, although then again it has many. The image quality is overly dark and overly done (just downright overly blown) and the editing is choppy and distorted. And the sound qualities of this scene are truly the icing on the cake.

"Easy Rider" is not so much an easy film to say you honestly love these days. Most people either find it boring and uninteresting or entertaining and legendary. Me, I think it's a hell of a ride. It's one of the great biker movies (take that as you will) and co-writer/director Dennis Hopper proves himself a daring and original filmmaker with a certain rawness and energy to his style. He brings us some sensational and memorable sequences set to the awesome soundtrack, beautiful camerawork, and some pretty interesting editing (which only really shows up a few times in the course of the 95 minute film). But most intriguingly of all, he successfully defines the era that the movie is set in. The 1960's was a time of sex, drugs, rock and roll; free love, marijuana usage, shit like that. I've been told that the drug use in this film is 100% authentic. I wouldn't know what the effects of the drugs used feel or look like, since that's not really my thing, but if Hopper believes he's been accurate to reality; then so be it.

The ending is widely disliked by those who liked the film and those who didn't alike. After meeting a wide variety of people - some accepting, others hateful towards the hippies and their generation - the bikers encounter two rednecks in a truck with a shotgun who (surprise, surprise) happen to despise them too. They decide it would be best to express this verbally. Billy, always the hostile type, flips them the bird; and of course they shoot at him, and they hit the target. Wyatt then gives his bleeding friend his jacket to wear, and heads back to face the good-for-nothing hicks. They fire at him and the bullet makes contact with his motorcycle's gas tank. His bike explodes. The last shot is of the burning bike on the side of the road. Wyatt's vehicle is iconic for its patriotic decorations; and Wyatt is often referred to by Billy as "Captain America". Maybe this is how the American dream came and went; with a crash, a burn, and a head full of grass.

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More Easy Rider reviews
review by . July 18, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
American dreams  Drugs, cash, girls -- an endless highway  It's true, we blew it
review by . June 23, 2002
Most of the negative reviews here criticise this movie as being dated and for idolising the waster culture - possibly related criticisms - but it's difficult to see how you could justify either except on a very cursory consideration of the film. Easy Rider absolutely refuses to idolise the sixties ideal, and it is not to my eyes even vaguely dated (I say this having seen it for the first time last night, thirty three years late). The golden thread running through this film is that THE PARTY'S OVER, …
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #3
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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This box-office hit from 1969 is an important pioneer of the American independent cinema movement, and a generational touchstone to boot. Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper play hippie motorcyclists crossing the Southwest and encountering a crazy quilt of good and bad people. Jack Nicholson turns up in a significant role as an attorney who joins their quest for awhile and articulates society's problem with freedom as Fonda's and Hopper's characters embody it. Hopper directed, essentially bringing the no-frills filmmaking methods of legendary, drive-in movie producer Roger Corman (The Little Shop of Horrors) to a serious feature for the mainstream. The film can't help but look a bit dated now (a psychedelic sequence toward the end particularly doesn't hold up well), but it retains its original power, sense of daring, and epochal impact.--Tom Keogh
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Genre: Cult Movies, Action, Adventure
DVD Release Date: June 4, 2002
Runtime: 95 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures
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"Get your motor running"
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