Obviously, much has been written about a movie that is considered to be an epitomic counterculture work, perhaps even the main film of its kind.
And Easy Rider does arguably act as a summary depiction of the most important points playing out in that time; the crux of which is the birth, and some would say the death, of the "hippie" movement—a subcultural revolution seeking the true awakening and liberation of the individual—a continuation, of sorts, of the Beat Generation.
The movie's observations on this continually critical subject—self-realization, are still a very worthwhile source of insights.
Wyatt (Reading): "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him."
Written by the French author Voltaire, this is a famous quote that, on the surface, seems to be a clever cynicism but was actually part of a heated reply to a rather agnostic work by an anonymous author. Voltaire was a passionate critic of intolerance and dogma though still a polemicist. Which may bring us to an important point: Doesn't the subject of the source of the Universe transcend verbalization or even rationalization and is, by necessity, the height of the individualizing of an idea? Even questioning, analyzing or rejecting a creation source, many times considered proudly as empirical and objective, is absolutely personal.
The more we recognize this, maybe the more we would be able to come together in peaceful exploration, discussion and even wonder and awe.
Some have criticized the movie for demonizing the South—a point to be carefully considered—but what happened to the main characters in the film and, partly, to the hippie movement itself, is a demonstration of fear and hate and the particularly visceral dogma they produce.
Well, you boys don't look like you're from this part of the country. You're lucky I'm here to see that you don't get into anything...Well, they got this here - see - uh - scissor-happy 'Beautify America' thing goin' on around here. They're tryin' to make everybody look like Yul Brynner. They used - uh - rusty razor blades on the last two long-hairs that they brought in here and I wasn't here to protect them.
Humankind seeks comfort, stability and the approval of heaven from tradition, doctrine and ceremony; society seeks safety and civility from the rule of law—this is understandable, we naturally seek order. There is more than a pervasive undercurrent of belief that we would collapse back into chaos without these elements. But the counterculture, while sometimes having difficulty articulating a point this challenging, this threatening—senses this may be wrong—that any system of tenets is an inferior substitute for what should really be guiding us, and the system invariably becomes a weapon of control used by one group over another; of the powerful over the powerless; the past over the present; the self-appointed authority over everyone else.
George: Oh, yeah, that's right. That's what's it's all about, all right. But talkin' about it and bein' it, that's two different things. I mean, it's real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the marketplace.
The hippie movement cried out for the liberation and autonomy of the individual, but it could be said it faltered in manifesting the connection that would rightfully replace dogma. And, as they knew, what else would this connection be but the true tuning in of each person with the divine intelligence swaying silently behind the universe?—if indeed there is such a thing—as agnosticism, playing its part, is obligated to point out. Again, this being something that each living thing ends up having to know, or not know, in their own unique way.
But the powers that be reacted to this revolution as the threat of anarchy or, more to the point, the loss of their authority and sense of security, and took steps to shut it down as vehemently as possible. The movement also, to some degree, self-destructed. Still, it left its mark, and started a process of change that has affected everything.
Billy: I never really thought of myself as a freak, ya know...but I Love to Freak!
Happiness, peace and the world transformed: Could this come to pass? Is there a real key to it and what is that key?
A fascinating declaration from a jail cell--
Well, they are people, just like us - from within our own solar system. Except that their society is more highly evolved. I mean, they don't have no wars, they got no monetary system, they don't have any leaders, because, I mean, each man is a leader. I mean, each man - because of their technology, they are able to feed, clothe, house, and transport themselves equally - and with no effort...Why don't they reveal themselves to us is because if they did it would cause a general panic. Now, I mean, we still have leaders upon whom we rely for the release of this information. These leaders have decided to repress this information because of the tremendous shock that it would cause to our antiquated systems. Now, the result of this has been that the Venutians have contacted people in all walks of life - all walks of life. (laughs) Yes. It-it-it would be a devastatin' blow to our antiquated systems - so now the Venutians are meeting with people in all walks of life - in an advisory capacity. For once man will have a god-like control over his own destiny. He will have a chance to transcend and to evolve with some equality for all.
Each person a leader; transport themselves equally - and with no effort; control over his own destiny; a chance to transcend.
So startling and direct. One has to wonder what were the sources of this information and conclusions that this character of a dissolute but intelligent lawyer from the richly layered and mysterious world of the deep south drew upon. We don't find out.
An illuminating and even courageous comparison Easy Rider made was the glimpse at a salt of the earth family making a simple but successful life for themselves...
Wyatt: No, I mean it. You've got a nice place. It's not every man that can live off the land, you know. You do your own thing in your own time. You should be proud.
...and a spirited but failing commune.
You see, what happened here is these people got here late in the summer. Too late to plant. But the weather was beautiful and it was easy livin', and everything was fine. And then came that winter. There were forty or fifty of them here living in this one-room place down here. Nothing to eat - starvin'. Out by the side of the road lookin' for dead horses...Anything they could get ahold of. Now there's - there's eighteen or twenty of them left and they're city kids. Look at them. But they're getting this crop in. They're gonna stay here until it's harvested. That's the whole thing.
We just can't take anymore, Stranger. Just too many people dropping in. Oh, I'm not talking about you and your friends, you know that. And like the week before, Susan dropped in with twelve people from Easter City. She wanted to take ten pounds of rice with her...Well naturally, we had to say no...So she gets all up tight and she breaks out some hash - and she won't give us any. Oh, and...that's not all. The next morning, they went outside to start their bus and they couldn't get it started...
The commune demonstrated some of the definitely positive aspects of the counterculture philosophy: Faith, Simplicity, Generosity--
Jack (praying): We have planted our seeds. We ask that our efforts be worthy to produce simple food for our simple taste. We ask that our efforts be rewarded. And we thank you for the food we eat from other hands - that we may share it with our fellow man and be even more generous when it is from our own. Thank you for a place to make a stand.
What was missing for them?
Bill (regarding marijuana): It gives you a whole new way of looking at the day.
George: Here's to the first of the day, fellas. To ol' D. H. Lawrence. Nik-nik-nik...
People exploring their consciousness by altering it is a given, and was elemental in this revolution, but in this story of failed attempts—of the commune, of Wyatt and Billy, of the counterculture movement—perhaps part of the answer lies with the ultimately debilitating effects of addiction upon the body, the mind and the ability to hear the universe.
And though faith can move mountains, sometimes throwing seed upon dried out, unprepared land is just that—throwing seed into the wind.
Wyatt: We blew it.
The Ballad Of Easy Rider
The river flows
It flows to the sea
Wherever that river goes
That's where I want to be...
...All he wanted
Was to be free
And that's the way
It turned out to be
It flows to the sea—for Wyatt, it took literally dying. But for us...?
...a chance to transcend?
©ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY COLUMBIA PICTURES AND ALL RESPECTIVE COPYRIGHT HOLDERS