The Story (continued)
Easy Rider (1969)
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 the first of a number of campfire scenes, there is time for discussion and for short snatches of dialogue to illuminate the characters and themes of the film. In front of an open fire, Billy sings of his materialistic dreams:
I'm goin' down to Mardi Gras
I'm gonna get me a Mardi Gras queen...
In contrast, Wyatt smokes on a joint and seems withdrawn and remote to Billy: "You're pulling inside man.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 horse ranch to repair Wyatt's flat tire on his bike - in symbolic, parallel juxtaposition - to a rancher who is shoeing his horse nearby. Although the loud sounding motorcycle makes the horses skittish, the rancher (Warren Finnerty), not intimidated by their odd appearance, admires Wyatt's "good-looking machine." Wyatt and Billy are invited to join the ranchhouse family (the rancher, his Mexican wife, and his many Mexican-American children) for an outdoor meal at the long dinner table. Wyatt respectfully compliments the rancher on his simple life of hard work, approves his self-sustaining piece of land ("nice spread"), and then clarifies his profound thoughts on his own attraction to the man's commitment to building a comfortable life for his family - an embodiment of freedom and responsibility:
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 restless and impatient with the domestic scene, 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 [at Sacred Mountain] to fill their tanks. Billy, who is paranoid and terrified of losing their one opportunistic chance at the good life, 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, Wyatt holds out a bill, looking for someone to pay, but the hitchhiker dismisses him: "That's all taken care of." Wyatt is pleased: "I like that." [There may be some pre-arranged payment scheme that the hitchhiker has with the owner of the gas station, but that is only speculation.] As they pull out onto the highway, 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 Pueblo Indian rock ruins. In the film's second campfire scene, 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 evasive Stranger, whom they are taking to his commune, enigmatically reveals he was originally from the repression of the city:
It doesn't make any difference what city. All cities are alike. That's why I'm out here now...cause I'm from the city, a long way from the city - and that's where I want to be right now.
The Stranger reprimands Billy for disrespecting the Indian graves directly underneath them: "The people this place belongs to are buried right under you. You could be a trifle polite...It's a small thing to ask." When Wyatt asks: "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. The commune is the typical 60s embodiment of idealized dreams - another alternative style of living quite different from the world of the rancher. The bikers are immediately drawn into the commune without fear or prejudice - their dress and mode of speaking are at one with the counter-cultural commune. The Stranger is relieved to be home - he hugs and kisses one of the women and washes his face in a washbasin. Billy plays 'cowboys and Indians' 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 in the middle of his chest - an ominous foreshadowing.
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. The promise of Paradise in the commune is a lost dream:
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 self-conscious 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 women are delegated to do all the cooking!]. The barefooted Stranger walks across a dirt field and explains how the touchy-feely commune is life-affirming but barely surviving - commune members (would-be hippie farmers) are sowing seeds on unplowed, barren, 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. Wyatt admires the brave determination of the inhabitants:
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 an Eastern-style religious blessing for the meal, 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." Uneasy in the commune, 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, who is distrustful and confused by the commune's values and unable to see any pay-off, turns back and walks over to Wyatt:
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 give Lisa and her friend Sarah a lift 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 restless and insists that they leave. Both drifters finally decide that they need to keep moving. Although Wyatt might stay and develop a relationship with Lisa, he realizes time is running out for them and they are compelled to continue their journey: "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 crashing the parade and "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 - ." George's activist ambitions in the community have been derailed by his drinking problem. Although they're "in the same cage here," George, experienced with the ACLU, the rule of law, and reconciliation between opposing groups, will function as their redemption because counter-culturalists Billy and Wyatt appear scruffy and foreign-looking to the red-neck 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.
George, a synthesizing combination of liberal and conservative ideals who has been able to transcend his parochial surroundings, assures them that they can get out of jail and find freedom with his political connections - if they "haven't killed anybody - at least nobody white." For just $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." A binge drinker, George appears to be a frequent visitor to the jail and knows all the guards very well. Regarded as a fellow good-ol-boy by the guards, he is able to keep his rowdy behavior a secret from his disappointed father (he is the son of a wealthy, powerful, influential figure).
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!
George is also interested in saving himself by escaping from the small town 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 that eventually directs them to hedonistic, self-interested pleasures at a legendary whore house:
'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 with a blue center stripe, 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.