analysis of the film easy rider directed by dennis hopper

Analysis of the Film Easy Rider

Directed by Dennis Hopper

The late 60ies in America were marked by the social upheaval caused by various factors, social and political, among which one can remember students movement in the USA and Europe, ongoing war in Vietnam, the assassination of the president Kennedy and national hero of the USA Martin Luther King, the legendary concert in Woodstock. All these events provoked the emergence of feeling of paranoia, intolerance, increasing violence. This was the period of social protests; young people rejected the conventional way of living and as a reaction developed their own counterculture – hippie movement, that supported active way of living, traveling, accepted drugs as a life style and adored rock music. “Easy Rider” directed by Dennis Hopper is a typical road movie. In the center of the picture there are two young and free bikers on the open road – Wyatt (played by Peter Fonda) and Billy (played by Dennis Hopper). They both have earned a huge sum of money by selling some cocaine and now they are traveling from Los Angeles to New Orleans. Both on Harley Davidson motorbikes they look like the cowboys from American westerns.

On their way to New Orleans, which is their actual destination, they encounter hippie commune, later on they meet George Hanson (played by Jack Nicholson) and thus there are already three of them. Later George is killed by some gang because of their unconventional appearance and their involvement in hippie movement. Two other heroes, or actually anti-heroes, continue their wander in the search for freedom. Unfortunately, all they could find is not more than ennui and social intolerance.

It is a film that portrays how young people having failed to understand their goal in a society conduct uncomplicated living style (actually “easy ride” is term to denote that a man lives off a woman, probably prostitute, using the money she gives him), try to find the ephemeral freedom, however, on the background one can discern general solitude, alienation and ennui. In order to acquire thorough grasp of how the young people are submerged into the solitude, alienation and ennui while continue to conduct a “free” and easy way of living, one must first look at the way how the film contemplates the shallowness and menace of the so called freedom with all its “anything-goes”. Another point is the revelation of the social problems that underlie relations based on the two parallels of supply and demand which in the long run bring about the society’s longing for easy money. Another important issue that adds to the general ennui disguised by the seeming carelessness is the revelation of drugs treatment as a bridge to disclosing human inhumanness. The technique of confusing the scenes and times is masterfully utilized to achieve the sense brisk and jerky life-style of the characters. To support the idea of futility of the dream pursued by the heroes the author puts this idea into Wyatt’s own words and ends the film with death as there is no better way out with such beginning.

The revelation of the social relations based on the two parallels of supply and demand which in the long run bring about the deplorable consequence. The search for easy money is the opening for the picture. Wyatt and Billy make a successful drug deal, take possession of their profit and start their journey which finally will bring them nowhere. Easy Rider destroys the prejudiced conviction that solely honorable, decent character with charming appearance and dignified manners can be a protagonist of a deductive story. Actually here Hopper instead presents quite opposite characters in the lead roles, drawing audience attention to their struggles with society and its rules and norms. Film is much like the reflection of the situation within American society at those days. Such elements like drugs, free love rock-n-roll music are exploited here in variegated manner. Besides, the authors could not have neglected violent scenes, skinny-dipping – widespread phenomena of hippie era.

To emphasize the alienation felt throughout the story director chooses a peculiar environment for the film events. The setting of the film constantly conveys the feelings of solitude, alienation and ennui. The film is replete with scenery of parched areas with no living being there and only some garbage can be found there as a symbol of American throw-away style of living, American society of total consumers. This depressive picture only sometimes is diluted with cinematographically marvelous episodes of sunset that fills the desert with purple light. The feeling of alienation is intensified with the sociological issues of intolerance exploited in the movie. Intolerant attitude of people fro the place where Wyatt and Billy have arrived is the reaction to the invasion of alien non-conventional elements into well-established society, for which the conformity with social norms is something like unbreakable law. That is why the strangers on glowing Harleys, with “star and stripes” bandana over the long hair are taken as degenerating representatives of hippie movement that are surely harmful for American moral values. For the same reason of being different, of feeling free all three characters find their death by the end of film. Their path in search for freedom and easy life appears to be endless and finally leads them nowhere.

The feeling of alienation is also amplified with the psychological coloring of the movie. The human relations presented in the movie do not seem to be genuine and profound. The feeling of superficiality accompanies the episode with hippie commune where people who joined it were aiming at freedom but finally they turned into selfish obtuse guys stuck in narcotic oblivion. Relations between Wyatt and Billy also lack genuineness. Their friendship is deprived of sensuality and the fact that the actors while performing in the film were under the influence of marijuana only strengthened the alienation between film characters, their conversations sometimes are meaningless, do not correspond to the context and bestow upon their relations the sense of weirdness.

The film approaches the issue of drug-taking with a hint of irony. It aims at conveying the idea that the fear of drug users is a greater threat than drugs themselves. Moreover with discussion drug issues this film brings us close to the message that people are inclined to neglect those who are different from them and thus by this behavior they deepen the abyss between them, in addition they do not accept the views of those people and dehumanize them. The surrounding of the main characters in the film, in particular the guys who violently persecute Wyatt, Billy, and George, are not going to treat the bikers seriously supporting their attitude by their outward features non-acceptable such as their hair-style, their dressing, their drug use, These weak explanations seems to be sufficient to expel the men from society, and who can remember the idea of all men being created equal?

The past, present and future are inexplicably interconnected in the picture. For this purpose, a transitional technique is used in the film. The next scene is shown in a quick cut, and then the previous scene is shown again and then back to the next scene as the process often repeats several times, in this way creating a flashing effect of the two different scenes with quick jumps. The bigger these jumps are in the film the more burning look the motorbikes observed from the recessive bird’s eye view. Although this method here underlies the personal vision of future it stylistically matches the described time-spanned scraps – the film narrative informs that the future is available now in the present and though there is some aim set, the fate is involved in its obtaining. The innovational element in Easy Rider is rather high documentary content of the movie. The film deals with described story while its beautiful and dangerous side scenes – the landscapes, the cities, towns and villages as well as figures who act in it are highly authentic. Through such concept as well as through the concept of the story of two hippies the non-fictional American reality is measured.

After the scene at a cemetery with two young prostitutes when Wyatt and Billy are again on the road the movie approaches to its denouement. The Billy’s excitement about that they did what they wanted, they could be regarded happy evokes from Wyatt only cryptic remark: “We blew it” expressing in this way his understanding on all the vainness of their nomadism. This dialogue sends a message on pointless pursuit for unknown aim called freedom, wealth that eventually turns into disappointment. To put an end to aimless and corrupt living both wanderers are killed by some scoundrels. The final scene when Wyatt’s motorbike is flying into the air, disintegrating as it flies and bursting into flame is one of the most wonderful shot made by camera at high speed.

To conclude one must think about the reason why young generation of that restless epoch aspire to conduct easy living style, seek for freedom, generally are involved in what seems quite harmless affairs suffer defeat, have constant feeling of being solitary in alienated surrounding. And the possible answer is that this is the price for the unattainable freedom. It’s exactly what Hanson in some episode states: “What you represent to them is freedom… It’s real hard to be free when you’re bought and sold in the marketplace. Of course, don’t ever tell anybody they’re not free ’cause they’re gonna get real busy killin’ and maimin’ to prove to you that they are…”


Easy Rider directed by Dennis Hopper, 1969 Columbia TriStar.

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