Easy Rider EssaySubmitted by ryandonovan at 2000-04-22 17:13:36 EDT
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EXISTENTIALISM IN "EASY RIDER"
"Easy Rider" is generally known as the "classic" biker film. Harleys and
highways. Born to be wild. All that stuff. But for me, it was more of a
philosophical and existential trip at a time in this country (1969) when freedom
and civil rights seemed to be threatened. Overall, I think it was intended to
be a statement about how modern civilization, government, and society were
actually destroying free thought, and I imagine it was much more relevant at the
time. It's a little surprising that a couple of strung-out junkies that don't
recall filming half the movie, could have put together such a provoking and
insightful film. But they did; and even managed to echo some thoughts of renown
existentialist thinkers, like Albert Camus.
Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper wrote, directed, and starred as long-hairs riding
Harleys across the country, going wherever the wind took them. Along the way,
they pick up Jack Nicholson, an upstanding citizen looking for a little
adventure. The film's existentialist views are made obvious toward the end, in
conversations between the three and the events that follow. The parts of the
film that made me think were the parts about the idea of freedom. Nicholson
says that the Everyman is not free; he is bound by his life, his work, his
responsibilities, what he has chosen. He suggests that the three of them, the
vagabonds, are truly free. However, the Everyman insists that he himself is
free, and will get violent to prove it (foreshadowing). The Everyman resents
those who actually are free, because they threaten what he believes is freedom.
In the end, the Everyman resents them so much that he kills them. Nicholson
even says, "They don't hate you; they hate the idea of you." Hopper was free
without realizing it. He says, "The idea of me? I'm just a guy who needs a
haircut. That's what they see." He was dead wrong.
There is also the idea that they might be the last hope for freedom, as
Nicholson talks about aliens that have infiltrated the earth, and are breeding
with the Everyman in "all walks of life". Surely this is not meant literally,
but the idea is there. He talks about the aliens being more civilized, more
advanced: no wars, no leaders, everyone is equal. He speaks of them as if their
lifestyle is better. Is it? Is it what the Free Men are striving for? Are the
aliens free? Or are they actually glorified humans, the Everyman taken to the
extreme? Are they not the antithesis of the Free Man? Are they not bound by
their equality and perfection and civility? Haven't they lost the right to
choose? Aren't they conquering those who are unlike them, just as the men at
the end conquer the Free Men?
Fonda and Hopper end the film with an ominous and definitive statement: Society
will win out, and quash freedom. There is no hope for the Free Man.