Dennis Hopper directed the iconic picture, and also served as co-star and co-writer, along with Terry Southern, who also helped write the script with the two men. The film, released at the close of the 1960s, captured the liberation and independence that the decade represented.
Normally this may be the point of the review where I introduce the setting, but Easy Rider is a road movie, and the setting is the pavement. Fonda plays Wyatt, and Hopper plays Billy, two drug-slinging hippies who are making their way towards Mardi Gras "in search of America." It seems like five minutes never pass without seeing a glimpse of the two riding down the road on their Harley Davidsons.
The context of the film doesn't really need to be described. It's the 1960s, and we all already know about hippies, we know about Woodstock, and we know about drugs. Many who read this may not have lived during this period, but we've heard this time period discussed enough by our elders. Thus, Easy Rider will no doubt have a nostalgic feel to those who experience this period firsthand.
Wyatt and Billy are close friends in the film, which goes without saying if they are willing to travel hundreds of miles together. However, their personalities are fairly different. Wyatt is as easy-going and accepting as they come, and often plays as a calming influence over Billy, who can easily become emotional and belligerent. The two travel light; aside from their Harleys, they have the clothes on their back, including their leather jackets, and plenty of herbal sustenance -- and no, I do not mean green tea.
The two don't sleep in hotels. This the 60s, they start a fire and kip on the grass when it gets too dark. But along the way, they meet some friends. At one point they pick up a hitchhiker (Luke Askew) and drive him to his commune, where they stay for a while with their new friend and his hippie comrades.
|Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider|
But the film isn't just about psychedelia and liberation. It is also about intolerance. As the trio near Mardi Gras, and are in the deep south, they stop to eat in a small rural Louisiana restaurant for replenishment. As they sit there, with their ragged appearance and unkempt hairstyles, they are heavily judged by the locals, who don't make much of an effort to keep their voices down. After a very uncomfortable few minutes where many unpleasantries are muttered from the locals, the men decide that it's best to get up and leave.
The scene exemplifies the cultural differences during this time period, and portrays to the viewer that this independent and free-wheeling lifestyle was not universally accepted by any means.
|Jack Nicholson as George Hanson|
The soundtrack is also something to behold. With music from The Band, Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf and the Byrds, the movie really went all out to capture the culture of its era, and did so by employing some of the biggest and recognizable names not only of its time, but in the history of music. For any fans of classic rock, the soundtrack alone makes this film worth seeing.
Easy Rider has since become a cultural staple, and a leading pioneer of the roadie lifestyle, and deservedly so. However, as Fonda said, it wasn't his movie that started it, it was already happening it. He just put it on film for the world to see.
~ Review by Ddubbs