Criterion Corner - Born to Be Wild: Easy Rider (1969) - Reviewed

A sweeping portrait of the American landscape through the eyes of two 60's counterculturists, Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider is a gorgeous ode to the open freedom of the American way. It's the ultimate road trip film, simultaneously developing its two protagonists and the characters they meet while intermittent segments of folk rock play backstage to colorful shots of the western countryside. Hopper displays an appreciation for the simple lifestyle that many Americans represent, from the mild-mannered farmer to the typical small town residents. The hippie movement that dominated the 60's thought process is also observed here, offering a fascinating inside look at a culture of peace, love, and a ton of unidentified substances.

The counterculturist movement of the 60's played a substantial second role to the hippie culture that this era is so well-known for. Harboring a natural urge to "rage against the machine" that carried over into much of the music of classic 70's rock bands like Pink Floyd, the pseudo-rebellious efforts of these type are put directly in the spotlight here. These characters appear to reject everything that society would deem unacceptable in favor of living a free and wild life on the road. As such, they are naturally met with discouragement and disgust from many a public eye, but they don't cast a caring eye onto it. They meet plenty of friends with similar mindsets (and drug preferences) as they continue on their cross-country trip to the heart of Louisiana for Mardi Gras. The flow between seamless road trip rock and dizzifying psychedelic rock trips creates a unique vision of a decade nearing its end. Woodstock would almost certainly have been the peak of this mindset, but Easy Rider is the summation of much of what this decade represented. A free-thinking movement that would change the face of America and pop culture forever.

Easy Rider is a masterpiece, not only for its historical context, but also for its sheer feat in cinematic beauty. If there was only one film I could choose that defined the American way, this film would probably be one of my first choices. It marks the end of the beginning of a new era, a time when the public and the country at large were changing for the better. It's a heartfelt farewell to the things of old, while also ushering in a new mindset for future generations. It is undoubtedly one of the hallmark achievements of the 1960's, but also one of the greatest American achievements in cinema. A legitimately freeflowing adventure that helped define a decade and capture a country in the midst of a change for the better.

-Wes Ball