Intent on seeing the Cahulawassee River before it's turned into one huge lake, outdoor fanatic Lewis Medlock takes his friends on a river-rafting trip they'll never forget into the dangerous American back-country.
Two young "hippie" bikers, Wyatt and Billy sell some dope in Southern California, stash their money away in their gas-tank and set off for a trip across America, on their own personal odyssey looking for a way to lead their lives. On the journey they encounter bigotry and hatred from small-town communities who despise and fear their non-conformism. However Wyatt and Billy also discover people attempting 'alternative lifestyles' who are resisting this narrow-mindedness, there is always a question mark over the future survival of these drop-out groups. The gentle hippie community who thank God for 'a place to stand' are living their own unreal dream. The rancher they encounter and his Mexican wife are hard-pushed to make ends meet. Even LSD turns sour when the trip is a bad one. Death comes to seem the only freedom. When they arrive at a diner in a small town, they are insulted by the local rednecks as weirdo degenerates. They are arrested on some minor pretext by the local sheriff and ... Written by
I cannot overstate the importance of this movie in my personal development.
In 1969 I was eighteen and a freshman at Cambridge University. I was also a near-fundamentalist and a member of the Christian Union. Its officials decreed that Easy Rider was unsuitable for Christian viewing; I'd seen some enthusiastic reviews which made me curious. Moral and spiritual dilemma followed. To view or not to view? I prayed about it - look, this is a long time ago, right - and decided that if it had been OK for the Christian Union's leaders to see it, if only to realise it was morally dubious, then it was OK for me. They hadn't been corrupted, presumably; the Lord would see that I wasn't either.
So I went and it blew me away. I thought then and think now, that this is a magnificently perceptive commentary on hippie culture and one that only the medium of film can deliver. Naive idealism is weighed against the squalid reality of drugs (and indeed alcohol). Freedom is portrayed as often aimless, self-indulgent and downright boring. The underlying morality could be seen as puritanical: a celebration of the free-lovin' drop-out Sixties it ain't, more a weary end-of-decade critique thereof. I would have thought there was much to commend it to the Christian Union moralisers, yet as ever they couldn't see past the surface - drug abuse, loose women. Yet it has its high moments, in more ways than one, and is always a treat for the eyes.
My decision to defy the Christian Union by seeing the film was an early step out of my fundamentalist prison and I haven't stopped walking yet. No-one's ever going to tell me what I can and can't watch again: nor will I censor anyone else's viewing. I'm still a believer, but not of the kind that the Christian Union would have thought will ever go to heaven. Guess I'll have to live with that.
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