Updated: May 24
Today I’ve got another film essay I’d like to share with you. So, the last time we spoke about a film, it was The Big Lebowski. I told you that it had a barely cohesive plot and that the film was a jab at the Hollywood lifestyle that seemed to draw people to that area. It also showed the other end of Hollywood, where its residents aren’t as well-off as their celebrity counterparts.
This time, I’m going to be talking about a different film. It’s similar to The Big Lebowski in that it doesn’t have an overt plot, which seems to be a big theme in these sorts of films. First off, this film is another cult classic, but it’s much less well-known as ones like The Big Lebowski or A Clockwork Orange. This one is called Easy Rider.
What’s It About?
Well, first off, it’s set in the 60s, and amongst the road-trip themes, drug abuse is one of them. It's about two drug dealers travelling across the USA, trying to get to the Mardi Gras parade, in New Orleans, in just a week. Their journey starts in Mexico, and they come across the deserts of Texas, New Mexico and all southern states until they get to the swamplands of Louisiana.
Along their travels, they come across several different lifestyles, from humble country farmers, hippy camp communities, to regular town and city folks, who create a bias against the pair, simply because of their nomadic lifestyle. However, they do eventually reach the Mardi Gras parade and have fun, but it's not without its strife. They experience the loss of a friend, a bad drugs trip, and at one point they're thrown in jail for "illegal parading" since they joined a local parade in one of the towns they stop at.
Ok, So Why Is This Film Important?
First off, it’s an exposition about the drug culture and the free love movement in the USA, during the 60s and 70s. In those decades there was so much heat about the use of drugs and the promiscuous lifestyle, so many took up, it was inevitable someone would make a film about it. It’s quite interesting, and whether you agree that the use of drugs should be accepted or not, the issue remains. Whether you agree with its use or not, there will always be a prejudice against it, because of the horror stories that we hear about it, even today. I personally don’t do drugs, or even alcohol, purely because my body isn’t tolerant for that sort of thing, but I understand that some can help with a person’s mental health, so I won’t write it all off.
Now, back to the filmmaking side of things, this film is a great piece to look at critically, because of its nature. What I mean is when you watch this film and compare it to others similar to it, you’ll find that the acting styles are completely different. This is why the plot may seem like there is no plot. Alright, what am I talking about? Think of your favourite movie, first of all. Now, look at its acting styles. A lot of the time, you can tell a film is a film, regardless of what genre it is, because it has an obvious and coherent plot, and most of it is obvious because of the acting. Think of films like You've Got Mail or The Avengers, you can tell you're watching a movie because every line these actors say is overly expressed. What I mean is that you can see the emotions on their faces, you can hear them in their voices, but when you actually converse with someone, in reality, their emotions aren't as blatant as a side glance or a frown. It's very difficult to actually tell what a person is feeling, just by looking at them. Essentially, the emotions of the characters are forced.
Easy Rider does something completely different. The acting is so laid back and awkward that it seems more realistic than any film I have ever seen, well, maybe except in films from arthouse cinema, like those you see from Europe. When I watched it, I felt like I was watching an abstractly edited version of a home video. The acting can’t even be defined as acting, because there is no attitude in any of the characters’ interactions, whatsoever. It’s so realistic I had to double-check that the actors that played Billy and Wyatt (the two drug dealers) were actually actors. It was so realistically done that I almost believed that what happened to these characters were real. It’s such a cleverly done piece that I have to commend everyone who took part in the film because nothing seems to be forced or made for an effect. It’s absolutely gorgeously filmed.
Now, I'm going back to the drugs part of this film, because, as I was doing some research on the film, I found out something actually very interesting. The drugs that they used in it were real. That means the marijuana, the LSD and the alcohol they drank were all real. So, you can guess why their acting was so laid back and so realistic. Most of it was actually because of the drugs. Now, I'm not condoning it, nor am I condemning, but it is very interesting because nowadays, it'd be considered a health hazard, and illegal for that matter if actors really did ingest drugs on set. So, it's interesting that this film actually dared to do it. That's why I find this film really different and interesting because to me it's less of a film and more of a documentary. After all, it is an exposition about the use of drugs, and about the different lifestyles of those who use them, and those who don't.
So, What Now?
Now, I highly recommend you watch it. If not for the story or the meaning behind it, but the acting. You’ll see for yourself what I mean. The conversations between the characters are so beautifully scripted, and so beautifully executed, I can’t praise the actors enough. As I said, when you’re watching a film, you know you’re watching a film because you can see the expression in every characters’ body language, and hear it in their voices, but with Easy Rider, the actors don’t give you that at all. They make you second guess, and they don’t look like they’re acting at all.
If you’re there for a story, you’ll barely get one. As I said, it’s like The Big Lebowski, there’s no meaningful lesson to be learned, or any big conflict between good and evil, let alone any romantic tension between any of the characters. It’s literally a cross-country ride, where two bikers just want to have fun at Mardi Gras and have a bad reputation, because of their nomadic lifestyle, and as I said, it's an exposition of different lifestyles as well. There’s the humble farmer’s lifestyle, where family and religion play important roles in their everyday lives, the hippy tribe, where free love means that everyone has a share, no matter who they are or where they come from, and the community of towns and cities, where you can be liked or shunned, because of your background. It’s a good look into how a community’s influence can determine what their opinion of you would be like.
So, I’m not going to say too much more, since, I can say a lot as I did for The Big Lebowski. I could go on so many tangents and still come back to Easy Rider because there is just a lot you could uncover here. That’s why I’m going to leave it to you. If you watch Easy Rider, then watch it with a film critic’s eye, and not just as an audience member. Write down what you think about it and let me know!
I’m open to discussions about these films because I believe it’s important to remember that there is always a lesson to learn, no matter if a film is an entertainment piece or an art piece.
Well, I’ll leave you there for today, and I’ll see you next time!