Easy Rider

Easy Rider

            Social upheaval caused by various social and political factors was characteristic of the late 1960s in America. The main characteristics of this period encompassed the student’s movement of the USA, the double assassination of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the Vietnam ongoing war and the Woodstock concert. These events culminated into the mixed feeling of intolerance, violence and paranoia. During this period, the youth developed the rebellious counter-culture of the hippie movement, which supported freedom living and traveling, rock music as well as the adoption of drugs as a way of living. Easy Rider a film directed by Dennis Hopper is a typical representation of the feelings that were articulated into the youth’s living standards (Hopper, 1969). The analysis of this film encompasses both content and form articulated into its production. Although the film was produced in 1969, it is viewed as a popular film as it sheds light on the kind of life that existed in the 1960s in America.

The film is founded on three extensive themes that are characteristic of the period within which it was produced. The themes encompass the feelings of the youth of the 1960s and they elaborate the feelings that the director had during its production. The three themes articulated into the film include the counter-culture of the 60s, rebellion and freedom (Hopper, 1969). These themes are the direct depiction of what should be expected out of watching the movie. The genre of the film being crime and drama is the main indicator of the themes that would be articulated into the film. The cinematic styles employed in the production of the film provide the audience with the deeper meaning of the film, which can be brought out using the themes. The film is about two drug dealer bikers who resemble the cowboys contained in the westerns, the only difference being the use of motorcycles as a form of transportation instead of horses.

The two anti-hero bikers after obtaining a large sum of money from peddling cocaine decide to buy motor bikes and travel through the corrupt and conformist America. They travel South-West in search of the freedom or the illusion of freedom that the youth of the 60s were longing for. Their journey takes them through New Orleans where they encounter a vast untouched landscape that is in comparison with the Monument Valley, different towns, a certain hippie commune as well as a graveyard in which they commune with prostitutes (Hopper, 1969). The local residents they encounter in some of these towns are narrow-minded as they do not support the longhaired freedom exhibited by the two riders as well as their drug use. The film ends at a sad note with the dramatic death of the two bikers on their way to Florida where they had planned to retire with their vast wealth.

The impressive acting observed in the film is enhanced by the ability of the actors to engage in the complete impersonation of their respective characters in the film. This impressive acting contributes to the memorability linked to the film as many people who have watched the movie still remember the different aspects of the movie (Manchel, 1990). This is because it concentrates on the two main actors but it still brings in other supporting characters whose main role is to enhance the transition of the movie from one scene to the other. The main actors are Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper). The roles of the two men encompass both writing the script and acting. The other major character was George Hanson (Jack Nicholson) who was the man who volunteered to travel with the two bikers after being released from jail.

The other actors include Stranger on Highway (Luke Askew), Connection (Phil Spector), Karen (Karen Black), Mary (Toni Basil), Jesus (Antonio Mendoza), Bodyguard (Mac Mashourian), Rancher (Warren Finnerty), Rancher’s Wife (Tita Colorado), Lisa (Luana Anders), Sarah (Sabrina Scharf), Jack(Robert Walker Jr.) and Joanne (Sandy Brown Wyeth). Excellent acting depends on satisfactory make-up, skilful picturing of emotions, proper casting, natural acting, proper timing and use of skilful dialogue (Hopper, 1969). During the initial shooting of the film, the director struggles with controlling the ad hoc crew, which culminates into a fight between him and Barry Feinstein, the photographer. After the fight, Hopper and Fonda decide to use a different crew who can be controlled easily as they have a good perception towards their role in the film.

The costumes adorned by the two bikers that include the combination of the American flag, long hair, cowboy decorations and drugs is a true reflection of the combination of the traditional partisan symbols and the insignias of alienation, loneliness and criminality.

The film being a road movie is shot mostly using natural lighting (Santas, 2002). In this case the only amount of artificial lighting is required while shooting the film in the restaurants. The use of natural lighting reduces the cost of the movie substantially and is recommended because most of the scenes are shot in broad daylight in the outside setting. The natural lighting provides the film with originality such that the audience watching the film believes that the film is based on an actual true story and the actors are not only acting but they are carrying on with their normal lives. The production of the film encompassed the use of two five-ton trucks, which are used to carry the motor cycles and the equipment needed for the shooting. The crew and actors are transported by a motor home.

Many different cinematic styles are injected into the production of the film. The camera movements as well as the use of editing contributed largely to the success of the film thus winning an award in the Cannes festival. The shot that imitates Wyatt’s tossing off his gold watch is a depiction of the throwing away of time. The scene in which the two bikers are about to depart for the cross country is a clear representation of the personal discovery and freedom that the two bikers are traveling to find. The long shots depict spatial continuity especially in the scene where Wyatt is changing tires while the rancher is changing horse shoes. This scene symbolizes the pursuit of a new frontier and freedom (Manchel, 1990). Different camera angles as well as lighting are used in the capturing of the freedom feelings. This is done through the employment of dolly shots and telephoto lenses, which is clearly brought out in the road scenes in which they are on their way in search of a new frontier.

The film editing is based on the ignorance of the 180 degree rule thus bestowing it with creativity. The scene at the graveyard is shot using zooms and quick shots to imitate an LSD trip, which is an indication that death can result from abusing hard drugs. Disorientation and anxiety are created in the mind of the audience through the employment of formalistic discontinuity editing whose characteristics include the use of crossovers, quick cuts and jump cuts (Santas, 2002). These characteristics culminate into the surprising and symbolic final scene of the film, which the audience was not anticipating. Birds’ eye-view and high camera angles and wide pans are utilized in the last scene of the film to give the film a high sense of realism and the theme that encompasses the downfall of the counter-culture of the 60s. Final Aerial shot that brings the burning bike and the road into focus is also a clear indication of the death of the illusion of freedom that had been adopted by the two bikers.

The last scene indicates that the freedom represented by Wyatt and Billy is just an illusion and it can only be achieved through death. The whole movie concentrated on the social evils of de-humanizing people due to the differences they exhibit. The two bikers are not judged because of their drug addiction but they are judged because of the attires they adorn as well as the mannerism that they exhibit (Manchel, 1990). In the same case, Nicholson is shunned by the society due to his drunkenness and this would have been an expansive case were it not for the social standing of his father in the society. The title of the film symbolizes the rootlessness exhibited by the main actors in their search for easy money because instead of it bringing them a good life, it destroys their lives culminating into their deaths as depicted by the last scene of the film. The same title stands for a pimp who lives on money extracted from prostitutes. This is brought out during the grave scene as the two actors are seen in the company of prostitutes who provide them with some money for buying drugs.

The release of the film was plagued by delays because of the protracted editing process, which was linked to the drug addiction of the crew that was shooting the film. Initially, the director had articulated many flash-forward scenes into the editing process but the final edited material only comprised of one flash-forward (Santas, 2002). The director was withdrawn from the editing process and it was taken-up by Henry Jaglom, who edited the movie and when the director was provided with the edited version, he said that the editor had brought out the main ideas behind the making of the film. The editor was not however given any credit in the film because he only appeared as an editorial consultant. The soundtrack of the film encompasses Steppenwolf, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Band.

Freedom can be translated into different forms depending on the translator. Some might translate freedom into the illusions of freedom while others might translate it into the freedom acquired after death. The director of the film Easy Rider articulates freedom attained after death into the film as an indication that though the youth of the 1960s attached a lifestyle of drugs into freedom, this lifestyle culminated into death (Hopper, 1969). The film encompasses three prevalent themes, which aid in the understanding of the activities that characterized the 1960s. Although the film begins at a high note, it ends at a low note leaving the audience with disillusionment because the main actors die before they acquire the freedom they were searching for. In conclusion, though the film was produced in 1969, it is viewed as a popular film as it sheds light on the kind of life that existed in the 1960s in America.

Works Cited:

Hopper, Dennis, dir. Easy Rider. Columbia Pictures, 1969. Film.

Manchel, Frank. Film Study: An Analytical Bibliography. Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990. Print.

Santas, Constantine. Responding to Film: A Text Guide for Students of Cinema Art. Chicago: Burnham Publishers, 2002. Print.



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