The Conservatism Of Easy Rider

Jesse Walker remembers Dennis Hopper - an unorthodox Kansas Republican - and the film that made him famous:

A central theme of the western is the tension between the sometimes lonely freedom of the road and the sometimes suffocating security of the rooted community. Easy Rider took place in a modern western landscape, not in the days of the frontier, but it grappled with the same idea. J.F.X. Gillis has argued that the film is, despite its reputation, a deeply conservative movie with parallels to Chaucer's "The Pardoner's Tale." In their stops along the road, Gillis argues, the protagonists "were given choices, opportunities to find meaning in their lives beyond that gas tank filled with money, beyond the pleasure of the brothel or the bottle, beyond the aimless wandering, meaning offered through spiritual commitment. Could there be a more conservative theme? The rancher and his family, the commune: first they were given a model of a meaningful life, then they were given an invitation to build that life. Invited to stay and join a family and find God, they refused."

"If this narrative had been Medieval, could there be any doubt at all of the theme or the moral teaching intended?" Gillis asks. "Sinners wander the countryside on a secular quest, encountering God's message but failing to acknowledge Him. They seek worldly pleasure at the expense of spiritual fulfillment, finding treasure and discussing it under a tree, only finally to die a horrid death by the wayside." That might not match the popular understanding of the movie's message, but it isn't far from at least one of the filmmakers' views. "My heroes are not right, they're wrong," Hopper's co-writer and co-star Peter Fonda said. "Liberty's become a whore, and we're all taking the easy ride."