About the Film Easy Rider

Easy Rider on IMDB

An excerpt from “Easy Rider and the Capitalist Opposition to Personal Freedom”:

Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider serves as one of the most successful and socially revealing examples of the “youthpic”. Chronicling the cross-country motorcycle trip of two “hippie” drug dealers trying to find their niche in the changing culture of the late 1960s, the film addresses counter-cultural attitudes about sex, drugs, and politics, including a rock soundtrack to further differentiate itself from classical American cinema. The film attempts to solve the identity crisis of the American youth in the late 60s by offering alternative lifestyles to that of the common and socially accepted super-patriotic, optimistic, suburban culture made popular in the Golden Days of American self-admiration in the 1950s; a culture that faltered under political unrest and changing ideals, and by the late 60s, desperately needed replacing.

Easy Rider demonstrates the difficulty such a significant and extensive identity search became in such a paranoid and distrusting atmosphere, as was America in the late 1960s. As capitalism seemed to be losing its adamantly-enforced supremacy over the ideals of the American people, the Cold War-encouraged fear of communism stimulated an aggressive and closed-minded defense of traditional American values. Since rigid capitalism demands the constant production, distribution, and interchange of goods and values and, above all else, the wealth implied by the possession of those goods, any form of free exchange violates the fundamental principles of capitalism. Freedom, in any sense, threatens the entire structure of a capitalist society. And since individuality, a necessity of personal identity, requires freedom of expression, absolute capitalism prevents the discovery of genuine identity. Thus, Easy Rider ends in failure with the two main characters thrown off their course and discarded by the side of the road.

Even as they explore social alternatives, Billy and Captain America are still trapped within the dominant system. The drug deal at the beginning serves merely as a means to an end without which the journey toward freedom could never have begun. But how can one expect to break out of a system when one absolutely must use that system to get where they are going? The motorcycles cost money, as does gas and food. In fact, lack of exchangeable wealth in a capitalist society equals non-existence; literally, it means death if one considers the necessity of food and shelter to be reliant on capitalist exchange. The travelling scenes in Easy Rider are therefore contradictory as the visual information–fluid movement, open road, loosely-framed horizons–contradicts the inevitability of their narrative failure.

As if Captain America did not have enough resistance to his quest, it seems that even his companion, Billy, serves to antagonize and discourage the acquisition of freedom and identity. As the dim-witted and often intoxicated sidekick, Billy travels faithfully at Captain America’s side without actually understanding what the journey represents or exactly where it is taking them. Referring to the large sum of money acquired in the drug deal as “everything we ever dreamed of,” Billy demonstrates his ignorance and the extent of his unconscious assimilation into the capitalist ideology. Apparently, by the end of the film, Billy remains ignorant, having learned nothing from their journey as he proclaims, “We’ve done it… We’re rich, Wyatt!” and suggests retirement in Florida. But Billy never really understood the mission in the first place. … He doesn’t quite believe in capitalism, otherwise he wouldn’t be on this journey. But neither does he believe in Captain America’s ideology. He stands on the threshold, on Captain America’s side, because he doesn’t know what he’s looking for, if he’s even looking for anything at all, but he knows that whatever it is, Captain America will lead him to it.

And so, during the final camping scene when Billy declares, “We’ve done it,” he can only assume that the freedom they were looking for was the illusion of freedom that wealth represented. Of course he doesn’t understand Captain America’s response, “We blew it.” So conditioned is he into the capitalist ideology that he cannot even fathom that there is freedom beyond wealth.

Woodworth, W. “Easy Rider and the Capitalist Opposition to Personal Freedom.”  University of Hartford, 1999. Print.

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One thought on “About the Film Easy Rider

  1. Pingback: Nicknaming My Monsters « wheezyrider

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