Easy Rider (1969)


Easy Rider (1969) is the late 1960s "road film" tale of a search for freedom (or the illusion of freedom) in a conformist America, in the midst of paranoia, bigotry and violence. The film is both memorialized as a reflection of the popular and historical culture of the time and a story of a contemporary journey by two bikers (a 'buddy' film) eastward through the American Southwest. [The names of the two main characters, Wyatt and Billy, suggest memorable Western outlaws Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid. Rather than traveling westward on horses, they travel eastward on Harley-Davidson choppers — according to promotional posters, they were on a search: "a man went looking for America and couldn't find it anywhere."]

The film's screenplay was written by Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Terry Southern (the film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay). Both Fonda and Hopper co-starred, Fonda produced, and Hopper directed (his first effort). The film won the 1969 Cannes Festival award for the Best Film by a new director. Jack Nicholson's performance in the film, in one of his earlier roles, was widely-praised, receiving an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor. Easy Rider was a ritualistic experience and viewed (often repeatedly) by youthful audiences in the late 1960s.

It was an extremely successful, low-budget, counter-cultural film for the alternative youth market, with sex, drugs, and a pulsating rock and roll soundtrack reinforcing or commenting on the film's themes. The film was also a reflection of the "New Hollywood," breaking with a number of Hollywood conventions - little background or historical development of characters, the lack of typical heroes, uneven pacing, flash-forward transitions between scenes, an improvisational style and mood of acting and dialogue, and the equation of motorbikes with freedom on the road rather than with delinquent behaviors.

One morning, two free-wheeling, long-haired, social misfits/dropouts/hippies, a cool and introspective "Captain America" Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and mustached Billy (Dennis Hopper) ride up on motorcycles to La Contenta Bar in Mexico. With Jesus (Antonio Mendoza), they walk around the side of the bar through an auto-wrecking dump yard. After Jesus scoops out a small amount of white powder (cocaine) onto a mirror, both Wyatt and Billy sniff the dope. In Spanish, Wyatt chuckles: "Si pura vida (Yes, it's pure life.)" Then, Wyatt hands a packet of money to Jesus who thumbs through it and smiles. They are given cases of the powder in the drug deal.

Before the film cuts to the next scene, the loud noise of a jet engine plays on the soundtrack. In the next scene of their dope deal, they are now in California where they have smuggled the drugs. Billy and Wyatt are on an airport road next to the touch down point of jet planes - the sound of approaching planes is excruciatingly loud. A Rolls Royce pulls into the frame with their Connection (Phil Spector, the famous rock and roll producer in a cameo role). While testing the white powder in the front seat of their white pickup truck, the Connection ducks every time a plane lands. In exchange for the drugs, the Bodyguard (Mac Mashourian) gives a large quantity of cash to Wyatt in the front seat of the Rolls.

The drug deal is finalized to the tune of Steppenwolf's "The Pusher," a song which is overtly against hard-drug pushers and dealing. Wyatt rolls up the banknotes and stuffs them into a plastic tube that will be inserted into the gas tank of his stars-and-stripes decorated motorcycle:

You know I smoked a lot of grass
Oh Lord, I popped a lot of pills
But I've never touched nothin'
That my spirit could kill
You know I've seen a lot of people walkin' round
With tombstones in their eyes
But the pusher don't care
Aw, if you live or if you die
God damn the Pusher
God damn, hey I say the Pusher
I said God damn, God damn the Pusher man.

With the money they've made from selling drugs, they have financed their trip, including the purchase of high-handled motorcycles. Wyatt appears on his gleaming, silver-chromed, low-riding motorcycle, with an American flag on the back of his black leather jacket and a stars-and-stripes helmet. His pal Billy wears a tan-colored bush hat and fringed jacket. Wyatt casts off his wristwatch to the ground, a flourish that symbolizes his new-found freedom.

As they take to the open road on their motorcycles, cross the Colorado River and pass through unspoiled buttes and sand-colored deserts, the credits begin to scroll, accompanied by the sound of the popular song by Steppenwolf: "Born To Be Wild." It is the start of a beautiful adventure as they travel through memorable landscapes, accompanied by the pounding of rock music.

Get your motor runnin'
Head out on the highway
Lookin' for adventure
And whatever comes our way

Chorus 1
Yeah, darlin' gonna make it happen
Take the world in a love embrace
Fire all of the guns at once and
Explode into space.

I like smoke and lightnin'
Heavy metal thunder
Racin' with the wind
And the feelin' that I'm under
Repeat of Chorus 1

Chorus 2
Like a true nature's child
We were born, born to be wild
We can climb so high
I never wanna die.
Born to Be Wild
Born to Be Wild...

That evening, they are immediately rebuffed at a motel when they ask for a room - presumably because of their long hair, general unkempt and far-out appearance. The manager flashes the NO Vacancy sign at them. They camp out on the first leg of their cross-country odyssey to New Orleans, hoping to arrive there before the Mardi Gras celebration. In front of an open fire, Billy sings:

I'm goin' down to Mardi Gras
I'm gonna get me a Mardi Gras queen...

Wyatt smokes on a joint and seems withdrawn and remote to Billy: "You're pulling inside man. You're getting a little distance tonight." Wyatt explains that he is tired: "Yeah, well, I'm just getting my thing together." The next morning, Wyatt wakens first, and explores a deserted, broken-down shed, and a drawer on the ground with a rusted compass and a withered piece of paper inside. He also looks at a frayed booklet with pages blown by the breeze. They stop at a ranch to repair Wyatt's flat tire on his bike. Although the loud sounding motorcycle makes the horses skittish, the rancher (Warren Finnerty) admires Wyatt's "good-looking machine."

Wyatt and Billy join the ranchhouse family (the rancher, his Mexican wife, and his many Mexican-American children) for an outdoor meal at the dinner table. Wyatt compliments the rancher on his "nice spread" and then clarifies his profound thoughts:

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.

Soon, they are on their way again through a wooded, mountainous area, while The Byrds' "Wasn't Born to Follow" plays on the soundtrack. Wyatt picks up a Stranger/hitchhiker (Luke Askew) and they ride up to an Enco gas station to fill their tanks. Billy is nervous about having the Stranger help fill the tanks:

Billy: Hey man, everything that we ever dreamed of is in that teardrop gas tank - and you got a stranger over there pourin' gasoline all over it. Man, all he's got to do is turn and look over into it, man, and he can see that...
Wyatt: He won't know what it is, man. He won't know what it is. Don't worry, Billy. Everything's all right.

After filling both tanks, they ride off without paying - even though they are rich with drug money. As they leave, the last shot cuts to the gas station building, where a poor Mexican girl looks out the window.

As they ride through more open desert terrain and the golden sun begins to set over Monument Valley, the Band's "The Weight" is heard on the soundtrack:

I pulled into Nazareth, was feelin' 'bout half-past dead
I just need some place, where I can lay my head
Hey mister, can you tell me, where a man might find a bed
He just grinned and shook my hand, and 'no' was all he said
Take a load off fanny, take a load for free
Take a load off fanny, yeah, and you put the load right on me
I picked up my bag, I went lookin' for a place to hide
Then I saw Carmen and the devil, walkin' side by side
I said 'Hey, Carmen, come on let's go downtown'
She said, 'I gotta go, but my friend can stick around'...

When night falls, they must camp again, choosing an ancient Indian rock ruins. Their figures are silhouetted against a beautiful Southwest sunset of many hues. They have a week left to get to New Orleans and the Mardi Gras. The Stranger, whom they are taking to his commune, enigmatically reveals he was originally from the city:

I'm from the city, a long way from the city - and that's where I want to be right now.

When Wyatt asks him, "You ever want to be somebody else?", the Stranger replies: "I'd like to try Porky Pig." Wyatt answers his own question: "I never wanted to be anybody else."

The next day, the Stranger leads them to his New Mexico commune where hippies are gathered outside the buildings. While the Stranger washes in a washbasin, Billy plays with the hippie children, yelling: "Bang bang" as he exchanges imaginary gunfire with them. Foreshadowing future events, Billy cries out: "Pow, pow, pow. Ppttwanng. You can't hit me, I'm invisible. I'm invisible." But a big glob of mud hits him on his chest.

Inside the barn/kitchen area of the commune building, Sarah (Sabrina Scharf) "raps" with the Stranger, concerned about more visitors and the burden they place on the hippie commune:

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...

A mime troupe in the commune has "gone down to the hot springs to bathe." Joanne (Sandy Wyeth), one of the younger hippie girls, reads an interpretation from the I Ching and asks Lisa (Luana Anders) for help in understanding the passage:

Starting brings misfortune. Per-serverance brings danger. Not every demand for change in the existing order should be heeded. On the other hand, repeated and well-founded complaints should not fail to a hearing.

The members of the mime troupe return and interrupt the proceedings. Their leader theatrically takes the role of the Devil:

Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye. We've come to play for our dinner. Or should I say, stay for our dinner. Or even slay for our dinner...We've come to drink your wine, taste your food and take pleasure in your women.

Sarah grabs the Devil and pulls him out of the kitchen - she gestures for the rest of the troupe to leave so she can prepare dinner. The barefooted Stranger walks across a dirt field and explains how they are barely surviving - commune members (would-be hippie farmers) are sowing seeds on unplowed, sandy ground:

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.

Wyatt asks: "You get much rain here, man?" Billy and Wyatt predict opposite outcomes for the stoned-out labors of the workers:

Billy: This is nothing but sand, man. They ain't gonna make it, man. They ain't gonna grow anything here.
Wyatt: They're gonna make it. Dig, man. They're gonna make it.

In one of the film's more memorable scenes, the blessing before the meal, the camera begins a 360 degree pan around on the varied faces of a circle of people holding hands together inside the commune. The camera returns to Jack (Robert Walker, Jr.) who leads the group in a blessing, thanking God for "a place to make a stand":

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. (Amen.)

While the dance troupe, the Gorilla Theatre, entertains outdoors during the meal on a makeshift stage by singing "Does Your Hair Hang Low," Lisa, who has taken a liking to Wyatt, sits with him against a rock. She opens by asking: "Are you an Aquarius?" Wyatt shakes his head. Then she guesses right: "Pisces." Billy is not permitted to join a group including the Stranger and Sarah - one of the group holds a cross out in front of Billy and turns him away. The Stranger asks: "Who sent ya?" Billy turns back and walks over to Wyatt, telling him: "Whew. Man, look, I gotta get out of here, man. Now we - we got things we want to do, man, like - I just - uh - I gotta get out of here, man."

In exchange for the food they have eaten, Wyatt and Billy take Lisa and her friend Sarah on their bikes "over across the canyon" to the hot springs. "I Wasn't Born to Follow" by The Byrds is again heard as the group of four walk along the bank of a stream and then shed their clothes for a skinny-dip together in a rock grotto.

Back at the commune just before they leave, the Stranger solemnly offers Wyatt a small square object, a tab of acid (LSD): "When you get to the right place, with the right people, quarter this. You know, this could be the right place. The time's running out." Wyatt wants to stay in the idyllic setting, but Billy is impatient and insists that they leave. Wyatt realizes time is running out for them: "Yeah, I'm, I'm hip about time. But I just gotta go."

Along the way, they soon find themselves in the middle of a parade composed of red-uniformed band members and majorettes marching down the main street of Las Vegas, New Mexico. A revolving red light on the top of a police car signals them to pull over. They are thrown in jail for "paradin' without a permit." Billy objects vehemently as the jail cell door is closed on him: "You gotta be kidding. I mean, you know who this is, man? This is Captain America. I'm Billy. Hey, we're headliners baby. We played every fair in this part of the country. I mean, for top dollar, too." A star-patterned symbol drawn on the cell wall reads: "I LOVE GOD" among other graffiti drawings and inscribed names. Bill calls his captors: "Weirdo hicks." A colorful white plaster plaque reads: "Jesus Christ - the same yesterday, to-day and forever."

In an adjoining cell and lying on a cot, they meet a genial, drunken ACLU Southern lawyer, George Hanson (Jack Nicholson, in the role that made him famous). He is moaning to himself about his aching head and sleeping off a hangover: "All right now, George - what are you gonna do now? I mean, you promised these people now. You promised these people - and you promised these people and - ." He realizes that although they're "in the same cage here," Billy and Wyatt are scruffy and foreign looking to the townspeople:

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. You see - uh - I'm - uh - I'm a lawyer. Done a lot of work for the A. C. L. U.

A binge drinker, George appears to be a frequent visitor to the jail and knows all the guards very well, but wants to keep his behavior a secret from his disappointed father. George assures them that they can get out of jail with his connections (he is the son of a powerful, influential figure), if they "haven't killed anybody. Least nobody white." For $25 dollars, they are set free. After Wyatt thanks George with the words: "very groovy," George turns toward the guards and repeats the phrase: "Very groovy. Very groovy. See there. I bet nobody ever said that to you." Outside while looking at their "super-machines," George toasts the day with a bottle of Jim Beam, accompanied by his elbow flapping on his side like a chicken:

Here's to the first of the day, fellas. To ol' D. H. Lawrence. Nik-nik-nik-f-f-f-Indians!

He is interested in escaping the small town himself and joining them on their two to three day ride to New Orleans: "I must've started off to Mardi Gras six or seven times. Never got further than the state line." He shows them a business card from his wallet that the Governor of Louisiana once gave him:

'Madame Tinkertoy's House of Blue Lights. Corner of Bourbon and Toulouse, New Orleans, Louisiana.' Now this is supposed to be the finest whorehouse in the South. These ain't no pork chops. These are U. S. Prime.

George presents the most unforgettable image of the film after he tells them he has "a helmet." He is grinning from ear to ear, wearing a gold football helmet, and riding on the back of Wyatt's motorcycle, as "If You Want to Be A Bird" (by The Holy Modal Rounders) plays on the soundtrack. George sits up and flaps his arms.

Around the campfire that night, George takes another drink and again flaps his arms: "Nik, nik, nik, nik - Fire!" They turn George on to marijuana ("grass") and he is soon encouraged to inhale a joint for the first time in his life after sniffing at it and expressing his doubts about lighting it up:

You- you mean marijuana. Lord have mercy, is that what that is? Well, let me see that. Mmmmm-mmm. Mmmm....I-I-I couldn't do that. I mean, I've got enough problems with the - with the booze and all. I mean, uh, I - I can't afford to get hooked...it-it-it leads to harder stuff.

Thinking it has "a real nice, uh, taste to it," George gets high, prompting him to espouse his belief in aliens and UFOs:

That was a UFO, beamin' back at ya. Me and Eric Heisman was down in Mexico two weeks ago - we seen forty of 'em flying in formation. They-they-they've got bases all over the world now, you know. They've been coming here ever since nineteen forty-six - when the scientists first started bouncin' radar beams off of the moon. And they have been livin' and workin' among us in vast quantities ever since. The government knows all about 'em.

George describes more of his "crackpot idea" to Billy about how aliens from the planet Venus have already landed on Earth and the reasons why they don't reveal themselves as living and working people. In his theory, the government leaders have repressed information about the extraterrestrials:

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. (He 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.

They decide to save the rest of the joint for the next morning, as Wyatt advises: "It gives you a whole new way of looking at the day." The next morning, they continue on their trip and wind up entering a cafe/diner in a small Southern town, as three songs play on the soundtrack:

Local rednecks at one of the cafe's booths look up at the non-conformist intruders, as the Deputy Sheriff (Arnold Hess, Jr.) rhetorically asks: "What the hell is this? Troublemakers?" His construction-site booth mate with a yellow cap, Cat Man (Hayward Robillard) adds: "You name it - I'll throw rocks at it, Sheriff." Teenage girls at the next booth are excited by the strangers in a different way, particularly for George: "Oh, I like the one in the red shirt with the suspenders" and Wyatt: "Mmmm-mmm, the white shirt for me" and "look at the one with the black pants on." In response to the attention, George and Billy make funny noises with their tongues and say: "Poontang!"

The dialogue between the Sheriff and Cat Man despises and ridicules the bikers' long hair:

Cat Man: Check that joker with the long hair.
Deputy: I checked him already. Looks like we might have to bring him up to the Hilton before it's all over with.
Cat Man: Ha! I think she's cute.
Deputy: Isn't she, though. I guess we'd put him in the women's cell, don't you reckon?
Cat Man: Oh, I think we ought to put 'em in a cage and charge a little admission to see 'em.

Overhearing their ill-natured comments, George sighs at the two good ol' boys: "Those are what is known as 'country witticisms.' One of the girls boldly suggests asking the bikers to take them for a ride and then is dared to "go ahead." Other customers make loud asides about their appearance, insulting them as weirdo degenerates, fearful of something they don't understand:

Customer 1: You know, I thought at first that bunch over there, their mothers had maybe been frightened by a bunch of gorillas, but now I think they were caught.
Customer 2: I know one of them's Alley-oop - I think. From the beads on him.
Customer 4: Well, one of them darned sure is not Oola.
Customer 1: Look like a bunch of refugees from a gorilla love-in.
Customer 2: A gorilla couldn't love that.
Customer 1: Nor could a mother.
Customer 3: I'd love to mate him up with one of those black wenches out there.
Customer 4: Oh, now I don't know about that.
Customer 3: Well, that's about as low as they come. I'll tell ya...Man, they're green.
Customer 4: No, they're not green, they're white.
Customer 3: White? Huh!
Customer 4: Uh-huh.
Customer 3: Man, you're color blind. I just gotta say that...
Customer 1: I don't know. I thought most jails were built for humanity, and that won't quite qualify.
Customer 2: I wonder where they got those wigs from.
Customer 1: They probably grew 'em. It looks like they're standin' in fertilizer. Nothin' else would grow on 'em...
Customer 3: I saw two of them one time. They were just kissin' away. Two males. Just think of it.

Feeling threatened by the "Yankee queers" and their alternative lifestyle, the narrow-minded Deputy and Cat Man suggest eliminating them:

Deputy: What'cha think we ought to do with 'em?
Cat Man: I don't damn know, but I don't think they'll make the parish line.

George quickly loses his hungry appetite and Wyatt rises to "split" - the waitress has refused to serve them anyway. The teenage girls follow them outside and gather around to ask for a ride, but Billy changes his mind when he notices the Deputy peering out the cafe window at them - "the Man is at the window."

At their next campsite around a campfire (because hotels and motels won't accept them), George (in a conversation with Billy) expresses the prophetic theme of the film - their threat to the Establishment. He articulates the reason for the hostility and resentment that they generate - they represent freedom:

George: You know, this used to be a helluva good country. I can't understand what's gone wrong with it.
Billy: Huh. Man, everybody got chicken, that's what happened, man. Hey, we can't even get into like, uh, second-rate hotel, I mean, a second-rate motel. You dig? They think we're gonna cut their throat or something, man. They're scared, man.
George: Oh, they're not scared of you. They're scared of what you represent to 'em.
Billy: Hey man. All we represent to them, man, is somebody needs a haircut.
George: Oh no. What you represent to them is freedom.
Billy: What the hell's wrong with freedom, man. That's what it's all about.
George: Oh yeah, that's right, that's what 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. 'Course, don't ever tell anybody that they're not free 'cause then they're gonna get real busy killin' and maimin' to prove to you that they are. Oh yeah, they're gonna talk to you, and talk to you, and talk to you about individual freedom, but they see a free individual, it's gonna scare 'em.
Billy: Mmmm, well, that don't make 'em runnin' scared.
George: No, it makes 'em dangerous.

George ends his confident words of wisdom with another flap of the arm and "nik, nik, nik, nik, nik, nik, nik - Swamp." After they settle down in their sleeping bags, unidentified men attack them and beat them in the dark. Billy and Wyatt are both bloodied and bruised, but George has been clubbed to death. Billy goes through George's wallet, wondering what to do "with his stuff." They find some money, his driver's license, and his card to a New Orleans brothel: "He ain't gonna be usin' that."

The next scene abruptly finds them in a New Orleans restaurant, where they are served a fancy meal with wine (as the soundtrack plays "Kyrie Eleison" by The Electric Prunes). Thinking they'll "go there for one drink" because George "would have wanted us to," Billy and Wyatt make their way to the House of Blue Lights, the brothel/whorehouse, a place of institutionalized love that George dreamed of visiting. The interior of the whorehouse is decorated with sexual and religious paintings and with an ornate ceiling and chandelier. The salon has a few prostitutes seated on couchs, a pimp, a Madame, and a golden-haired woman who dances on a table. After snuggling and being entertained, Billy gets smashed while Wyatt stares off into space postulating: "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him." Wyatt looks up to an inscription on the wall which reads: "Death only closes a man's reputation and determines it as good or bad."

There is a momentary, quick flash forward - an aerial shot of a fire burning alongside a highway - it is the final image of the film - Wyatt's motorcycle burns beside the road.

The Madame brings in two hookers, Mary (Toni Basil), a dark-haired woman who accompanies Wyatt, and Karen (Karen Black in her film debut) the "tall one" who joins Billy. With the two prostitutes, they wander through the crowded Mardi Gras celebration in the streets, where there are large floats and people are singing and parading in costumes. ("When the Saints Go Marching In" plays in the background.) As they move down the street, Wyatt comes upon a dead dog lying at the curb - they stoop down to it.

Then, they enter a cemetery, a place of institutionalized death, where they all split the packet of the hallucinogenic drug LSD, given them earlier by the Stranger. A girl's voice repeatedly recites religious creeds during the sequence:

I believe in God, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth...Was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell - the third day, he arose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, to sitteth at the right hand of God - the Father Almighty. Creator of heaven and earth. I believe in God, Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ - his only son, Our Lord. Received Holy Ghost. Born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried....Blessed art Thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of Thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now...

Their drug trip/experience is a disjointed, distorted, purposely chaotic sequence of images and sounds. Wyatt overlaps the creed with his own ramblings and eventually ends up sobbing: "Oh Mother why didn't you tell me? Why didn't anybody tell me anything?...What are you doing to me now?...Shut up!...How could you make me hate you so?...Oh God, I hate you so much." Both women take off their clothes and pose nude in the cemetery while Wyatt embraces one of the marble statues. They frolic throughout the crypts, but ultimately they all share a sour, bad trip together. Both Mary and Karen scream and sob: "I'm going to die. I'm dead...Do you understand?...Oh dear God, please let it be. Please help me conceive a child...I'm right out here out of my head...Please God, let me out of here. I want to get out of here...You know what I mean...You wanted me...You wanted me ugly didn't you? I know you johns - I know you johns."

Toward the end of their restless, nomadic odyssey, they leave New Orleans and ride on eastward to Florida, accompanied by "Flash, Bam, Pow" by The Electric Flag. At another campfire in the last scene before the film's climax, Wyatt and Billy exchange deep thoughts about the freedom they have found on their journey. Wyatt believes there may have been another less destructive, more fulfilling way to search for their freedom rather than selling hard drugs, taking to the road, and wasting their lives:

Billy (gleefully greedy): We've done it. We've done it. We're rich. Wyatt. (Laughs) Yeah, man. (Laughs) Yeah. Clearly, we did it, man we did it. We did it. Huh. We're rich, man. We're retired in Florida, now, mister. (Chuckles) Whew.
Wyatt (introspectively): You know, Billy. We blew it.
Billy: What? Huh? Wha-wha-wha- That's what it's all about, man. I mean, like you know - I mean, you go for the big money, man, and then you're free. You dig? (Laughs)
Wyatt: We blew it. Good night, man.

On the road again, to the sound of "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," they travel through more landscapes of America. Two armed rednecks in a small pickup truck think they'll have some fun with the two of them:

Driver: Hey, Roy, look at them ginks!
Roy: Pull alongside, we'll scare the hell out of 'em.

Roy reaches back and takes down his mounted shotgun from the back of the cab and aims it out the window at Billy:

Want me to blow your brains out? (Billy obscenely gestures with his 'finger') Why don't you get a haircut?

The shot-gun blasts Billy in the stomach and he is mortally wounded. His bike rolls and skids down the road. Wyatt stops and turns back toward Billy to help him:

Billy: Oh my God! (He gags)
Wyatt: Oh my God! I'm going for help Billy.
Billy: I got 'em. I'm gonna get 'em. (He sobs and moans)...Man, I-I'm gonna get 'em. Where are they now?

Middle America's hatred for the long-haired cyclists is shown in the film's famous ending. When Wyatt speeds down the road to seek help for his dying friend, the rednecks turn around and drive toward him - gunfire again blasts through the window and Wyatt's bike flies through the air. [Significantly, Wyatt's dead body doesn't appear in the final scene.] The closing image (of the earlier flash-forward) is an aerial shot of his motorcycle bursting into flames by the side of the road. Death seems to be the only freedom or means to escape from the system in America where alternative lifestyles are despised as too challenging or free.

The words of Ballad of Easy Rider (by Roger McGuinn of The Byrds) are heard under the rolling credits leading to the final fade-out:

The river flows, it flows to the sea
Wherever that river goes, that's where I want to be
Flow river flow, let your waters wash down
Take me from this road to some other town
All I wanted was to be free
And that's the way it turned out to be...



Created in 1996, by Tim Dirks. All rights reserved. tdirks@filmsite.org

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