Friday, November 13, 2009
Easy Rider (1969)
Directed by Dennis Hopper. It's ridiculous that I went my whole life without seeing this considering first how legendary it is, next how many movies I see, and last, the sorts of movies I tend to see, meaning, this sort.
I've never had anything against "Easy Rider" per se. It's just that there's a point when something becomes so iconic that it also can seem superfluous. And to a certain extent, it's true. I have finally seen "Easy Rider" and I have to say that the endless references, parodies and followers have pretty well nailed it, so revelations and surprises were few and far between. When this movie starts and there they are on the open road with Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild" going, it all seems just a bit ridiculous. It's not as if I'm kicking myself for waiting as long as I did to see this.
And I have never liked Dennis Hopper. Well that's not exactly true. He was good in "True Romance" and "Hoosiers." And the older he gets the more I can cozy up to him. But "Easy Rider" is him at his most repellent. Look, this is a movie about bikers, and bikers are just stupid and repellent in the first place.
Yet this is still a great movie because the two best things about it easily carry the whole thing: Jack Nicholson, because he does a great job and plays someone who isn't a biker, and the overall message of the flick, about the death of the American dream, which is still vital as hell.
So Nicholson carries the second act and then the third act is a real wig-out. Like the Steppenwolf tune in the first few minutes of the flick, the acid trip sequence in the final third of the movie also seems a little quaint in this day and age, but to knock "Easy Rider" for being trippy would be like criticizing an old Elvis Presley TV appearance for being too much like Britney. This movie is the Rosetta Stone of trippy film.
It's a difficult spot to be in for a film to age in part because of the profound impact it has had on the massive legacy of movies that follow in its footsteps. "Easy Rider" doesn't just make its point creatively, it has a point to make. Wyatt and Billy set out to feel real freedom but never quite do. They realize this but don't even get freedom through redemption because moments later they are left for dead by the side of the highway; the movie ends as their dream ascends into heaven.