Moving down the road is life. Stopping is death. Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider adopts a similar, but very different view of the road as a metaphor. The two main character’s, Wyatt and Billy’s, interaction with the road does not truly begin until about seven minutes into the film when, after having obtained their new choppers, they set out on their trip to New Orleans. It is important to note that though they have a destination, no home is ever mentioned, perpetuating and highlighting a similar notion to Fellini’s idea of movement as life. But before they actually get on the road, Hopper pans in wide shot with Wyatt, as he and Billy enter the frame. They and their choppers stop. We stop with them in what is a pivotal scene, and a possible La Strada prop-use quotation. Wyatt holds up his arm, and stares at his watch. He pulls it off his wrist. He holds the watch up in his fingers, staring at it again. Hopper cuts to an extreme close up on Wyatt’s face. We rapidly zoom out and zoom in, as Wyatt throws the watch to the ground. Quickly, Hopper brings us back to the wide shot, he zooms out—cut back to the extreme close up, as Wyatt looks down at the—insert close up of the watch, lying on the ground. And cut wide once more, as Wyatt and Billy open throttle, enter the road, and fade into the distance, while the credits begin. Hopper’s technique is jarring and attention-seeking.
Here, Hopper draws a very different connection between the construct of time and the image of the road than Fellini. For Hopper, when time stops, the story begins. With so many quick cuts and angles crammed into such a short span of time, Hopper is able to seemingly stop the action within the frame, freeing the audience from the trap of time, along with Wyatt and Billy. Like with the Crucession scene in La Strada, we are swept onto the film’s road with the main characters. Only in this film, we receive no indication of impending death, no overt foreshadowing.
The road does not serve as a procession line, so much as it offers the gift of freedom. And Hopper utilizes several techniques throughout the film to support this theme. Employing a free- floating and flowing camera, he allows his characters to blaze past barren, yet beautiful, landscapes on their motorcycles: the predominate action within the film. The loose camera provides a raw and improvised whimsy to each of these scenes. Hopper complements the moving camera by lacing each of the ride scenes with contemporary, fun, and most of all liberating American music. Our characters rarely stop, and when they do it plays more as transition from one travel scene to the other, rather than as the meat of the “narrative”, or absence thereof. This absence of an exacting narrative within the film provides the strongest example of a technique which supports the theme of freedom. Simply put, the film frees itself from any constructed notions of narrative structure or tradition, only organically allowing an end: death, again.
This time it’s murder, and the camera implements us, the viewer. We travel along the road, staring at the trees and greenery as we pass. Wyatt, on his chopper, enters the frame in medium shot and we pan with him as he passes us. Billy enters and passes more quickly, leaving us behind. They begin to fade into the road, distancing us. Being one of the few times within the film that Billy and Wyatt leave us behind, the shot creates a bit of unease and a shifting of perspective. Then Hopper cuts to a two shot of some locals in their truck, a shotgun prominently featured within the composition behind them. The local pulls the shotgun down—Hopper cut us into his point of view as they approach Billy, implicating us. Medium on the gun-toting local.
His point of view and Billy flips us off. The local fires the gun, but Hopper implicates the viewer as well through his technique. In Hopper’s film, as in La Strada, movement is life. For Easy Rider the road is freedom. Wyatt and Billy died free, and Hopper positions us into the role of their murderer, presenting us with the choice: live free or be guilty.