Hit the Road: La Strada, Easy Rider, Alice in the Cities

Brandon Analysis, Essay, Film, Moviemaking, Movies

Wim Wenders’ Alice in the Cities is a much lighter film. No one dies, as in the two other films, but Wenders employs the road in similar ways. As in La Strada and in Easy Rider, we never see our main character, Phil’s, home. The road and the places along it are his entire life in the film. On one level, he is lost, struggling through writer’s block. For instance, in one scene, we watch Phil as he drives through Surf City. He searches the radio station for something to listen to, twisting the knobs in an insert shot. But as he continues his search, Wenders employs the diagetic sound of the changing radio stations overlayed on a wide shot: we travel down the road. We seem to float along with the camera all our own, no car, simply us, hovering above the road —just traveling. We, like Phil, just float along, apathetic.

Phil is pretty apathetic throughout, demonstrating a very small range of emotion in the film. As a result, we get the sense he is searching for some kind of meaning, some kind of emotion. This search is implemented immediately in our abrupt introduction to the road early in the film. We sit on the side of the road, looking back in wide shot. In his car, our main character, Phil, slowly approaches to a stop in order to turn right. As he approaches Wenders pans, changing the shot into a medium profile of Phil. Phil rests at the stop sign. He picks up his Polaroid camera, holds it to his face. Pointing toward screen right, he snaps a picture, thereby attempting to stop reality. Like the watch in the previous two films, the Polaroid serves as a symbol for stopping or loss of time. Only in this film, Phil never does. Throughout the film, Phil attempts to capture reality through this act of snapping pictures; he seems to always be searching for something in one way or another. That is until, he establishes a friendship with the title character, Alice. Through their connection, Phil finds a more enriched life. Therefore, he doesn’t feel the need to hold on to time and images anymore. So the film ends with Phil and Alice on a train in motion, living.

Film is very literally movement. Film is alive. Fellini, Hopper, and Wenders all felt this, and it shows through their films. Each of them plays with the idea of freezing or losing time, and what that means for a life in motion, and recursively for film. Their films prominently feature characters without a home, either forced into or choosing a life on the road. By their nature, road films seem to imply a destination, but for these filmmakers, that destination is very rarely the point.

Road films have persisted throughout film history, because they offer a richly layered experience. For the road film, motion—movement forward—is living. Within the genre, the road exists as a versatile metaphor: the path one moves down in life. Combined with technique, the road can have many meanings and purposes in film: commemorating death, representing freedom, providing a path for the lost, and the list goes on.