Friday, February 2, 2018

Musings on Easy Rider (1969)



The other night my husband Carlos and I made a deal. If he'd watch one of my movies, I'd watch one of his. He had his pick and he chose Easy Rider (1969). I recently showed interest in this movie and he immediately perked up. Really? You want to watch it? he asked enthusiastically. Sure, I guess. What was I about to get myself into?

I had avoided this film for mainly one reason: the drugs. I'm not a fan. For me it's not an interesting as a plot device in pretty much any medium: books, TV, movies, etc. However, there seemed to be more to Easy Rider than just two guys getting high. And it's hard to argue the cultural impact of the film and its continued legacy. The image of Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda on their motorcycles cruising through the American countryside is well... a very American image.

Easy Rider (1969) is a story about outsiders. Two lone wolves who don't fit in society and exist in a counterculture, one that the mainstream culture finds threatening. Captain America/Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) are "born to be wild". They deal drugs and travel across state lines spending time in small towns, jails, hippie communes and brothels. Because of their long hair and the way they dress and comport themselves, they are continually harassed and stared at. Motels refuse to board them. Sleeping by the side of the road is the only way they can get some rest but even that proves to be dangerous.

This film resonated with me in ways I didn't expect. I have always been an outsider. Never in my life have I ever fit in. Ever. Even in communities I helped create, I've always been a member on the fringe with one foot out the door. I don't belong anywhere. I work best on my own rather than as part of a team or duo. It's always been the way. I need and want people in my life but it's hard for me to find anyone who truly understands. I've always felt alone in any sphere of my life: family, school, work, online community, etc.

Captain America and Billy are misfits of the truest kind. They stick together because they have that in common. But in reality they're polar opposites. Captain America is mellow and easygoing and Billy is wound tight like a spring. They need the companionship of someone who understands what it is to be misunderstood. And this film is so much about being misunderstood.

**Spoiler starts**
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In the days since I finished the movie, the ending has haunted me. I kept trying to negotiate my way out of it. Captain America and Billy didn't really die. Someone will find them, take them to the hospital. Everything will be okay. Their story will continue.

It can't be that easy to destroy them. All it took was two mean-spirited locals with a rifle. How can they get away with this? Why did this happen? I was taken aback when Jack Nicholson's character George, the drunk lawyer, was killed. But clung on when I saw Captain America and Billy were safe. What am I to do with this ending? Is this the fate of all misfits and outsiders? We'll be destroyed by those who don't understand us?

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**Spoiler ends**

I'm still processing this movie and what it means to be alone in a world that doesn't understand. My husband and I are two individuals who are very much the same but also very different. We can't conceive of our partnership being a union of two people to become one. We are two different people. We need time to be together and time to be apart. I often use the phrases "separate but together" and "divide and conquer" when I discuss our relationship. We're kind of like Captain America and Billy. He's the mellow to my tightly-wound spring. We get what the other needs and we understand each other. It works.

If you have that moment in your life where you truly feel misunderstood, watch Easy Rider (1969). That'll be when you are most receptive to its message. Some will say it's just a drug-fueled movie with two iconic stars and a great soundtrack. But there is something deeper there if you're willing to discover it.
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