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Movie: Easy Rider (1969)

Posted: February 11, 2003 22:16:21 • 489 words

Freedom is the concept upon which this nation was founded. The idea of making one's own decisions rather than the government making them has spawned numerous attacks, personal and global, all perpetrated by someone who wanted a piece of the liberty pie. When looking back at history, one might ask, "Does anyone know how to be free in this over-regulated world?" In answer to this, we needn't look farther than our own highways to the constantly ignored motorcyclist, terrifically portrayed by Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda in their groundbreaking movie Easy Rider (1969).

Easy Rider uses abundant symbolism to carry its message, and contains little dialogue, which makes for a concise, uncluttered film. For example, the first twenty minutes of the film contain no dialogue, a rarity in modern films. In the third major scene, Wyatt (Fonda) starts to look at the time on his watch as he and his friend Billy (Hopper) leave for Mardi Gras. After staring at the watch for a few seconds, he tosses it to the ground and the two ride off to the tune of Born to be Wild. This simple yet deep action sets the tone of Wyatt's character for the rest of the movie: relaxed, carefree, and taking everything in stride. However, Billy remains tense, nervous, and mistrusting of all whom they encounter.

The majority of the shots consist of the pair astride their motorcycles rolling down America's highways. These roads on which they ride appear to be completely deserted, showing the independence of these much feared and hated "longhairs", a 50s and 60s term for hippies and motorcyclists coined to describe their rebellious nature. Unable to check into hotels due to their bad reputations, they spend their nights camped out in the woods near the road. After smoking their customary marijuana before bed, the pair have deep, thoughtful conversations about everything from Indian burial grounds to UFO abductions.

During one of these midnight conversations, a drifting ACLU lawyer named George Harrison (Jack Nicholson) reveals the true, abstract meaning of their "longhair" nickname. He tells them that they represent freedom, which scares people because everyone wants individual freedoms, but they secretly envy free individuals knowing that they will probably never be truly free like the hippies of the day. He concludes by saying that people aren't "runnin' scared" of free-spirited people, but they are scared enough to be "dangerous [to others]". Shortly after this conversation, the three are attacked by Texas thugs, and George is brutally murdered.

While Easy Rider receives much criticism for its unrepented drug content, the real focus of the movie is motorcycling and the nature of freedom in 1960s America. Written over 30 years ago, this film still holds true today and will probably be known in the future as a true classic. Hopefully, this timeless masterpiece will not be lost to all in the modern screen world of computerized special effects, meaningless dialogue, and overhyped productions.