Twitter Plot Summary: A road journey across America, filled with drugs, prejudice and more drugs.
Easy Rider should not be criticised for its apparent lack of story – as a piece of counter-culture cinema to criticise it for not having a narrative is short-sighted and completely missing the point. it’s a bit like criticising Jodorowsky’s El Topo for its incoherent story and frequent use of allegorical imagery and surrealism. Whilst Easy Rider lacks much in terms of dialogue and established storytelling structure, it more than makes up for it in its thematic overview and snapshot of 1960s life.
Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda play two hippies, Billy and Wyatt (self-proclaimed Captain America) respectively, as they ride their motorbikes across America in search of that which makes America great, drugs, more drugs and like-minded individuals. On their journey they witness both the highs and lows of American culture – the amazing scenery, the freedom to do as you please, balanced with the petty small-mindedness of a select, violent few. The locations selected really do push the American way of life in more ways than one, although this is counterbalanced by those aforementioned small-minded folk. It’s telling that the “normal” folks are scared of the likes of Billy and Captain America, yet they want nothing more than to be left alone and to get on with their way of doing things – a classic case of fearing that which you do not understand.
It is arguably lots of hippie, free-loving nonsense, but again this is something that was prevalent in that era. The bias is completely in favour of the counter-culture, as “The Man’ is portrayed in all his violent glory. This may be somewhat one-sided perspective but it makes its point well, especially given the pressures of the Vietnam War and the attitudes people had towards drug use at that time. Either way, you can’t help but feel that those hippies had a point.
Jack Nicholson makes a brief appearance as a jailed lawyer who falls in with Billy and Captain America for a short time. Later the pair encounter a couple of prostitutes and they all get off their heads on LSD – this sequence here is a stylistic link to the aforementioned El Topo and no doubt what your brain actually looks like whilst on drugs. The whole film has a sort of ramshackle, cobbled together feel to it, and yet it works.
The soundtrack perfectly encapsulates both the era and the lifestyle, with tracks from The Band, Steppenwolf, The Birds, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Roger McGuinn, amongst others, really cementing it in time and place. It’s a genuinely rocking soundtrack, one that works on its own as well as within the context of the film. If the counter culture was always this cool then it’s amazing it didn’t convert everybody to it. Then again, not everybody appreciates Steppenwolf.
And if you’re still not sold after all of that, Dennis Hopper with an epic moustache should be reason enough to give this a whirl. Go on, you know you want to.