Wednesday, March 11, 2009

True Freedom

Freedom—that is the one theme is this movie that really struck a cord with me. The two men, Wyatt and Billy, live so freely...or do they? They literally ride across the United States on their motorcycles just to go to Marti Gras, a huge party. Along the way, they have the freedom to stop anywhere they wish. They stay a while here, and a while there, and are still able to make it to New Orleans in time for their party. So what is this freedom that they have? Is it truly freedom?
At first, the viewer may think that it is. Like me, they may even be envious at first. However, after being allowed to see the picture from beginning to end, the viewer will realize that the freedom that Wyatt and Billy indulged in was really more of a search for freedom. They were never able to escape the thoughts of other people. These thoughts, negative or positive, affected all aspects of their life whether good or bad—the thoughts of the people at the farm, the thoughts of the group at the commune, and certainly the thoughts of the “rednecks” at the very end.

The first place they encounter on their cross-country road trip is a peaceful farm. Here, they admire the open spaces and plentiful bounty the family has reaped from their work. Next, they encounter a hitchhiker on the side of the road who leads them to his home, a commune. Here, Wyatt is especially affected by the atmosphere and people (and their ideas). He is greatly influenced by the words of the strange man at the commune. I can’t remember the exact quote, but it was something about when it was right, when the people were right, Wyatt would know. I think those words and that idea stuck with Wyatt through the end of the movie until he says, “We blew it.” Wyatt realized that he had bypassed what he thought of as good, and perhaps he had also bypassed the “right” people in the process. Lastly, they encounter the thoughts of the prejudiced southerners. Perhaps the first encounter speaks the loudest, even thought it was not mentioned in class. They ride up to a hotel in the middle of nowhere. There is absolutely no way that every room is occupied. Yet, when the keeper sees that who Wyatt and Billy are and what they look like, he walks back inside and flips on the “No Vacancy” sign. A foreshadowing of what was to come? I think so.

Wyatt and Billy were naive. They had no idea that the world apart from California would be so intolerant of their lifestyle and choices. Ultimately, the thoughts of others ended up killing both of them. Is this the freedom that we seek? Or was it freedom that they were seeking? I am not convinced that they ever truly found freedom. However, I do think that they had embraced the search for freedom more than anyone else of that era or perhaps even this one.


  1. Good picking up on that hotel scene. It is such a short bit of the movie, but it is an important scene.

    Hmmm... I would really like to know what you think freedom is and how it relates to cool.

  2. I knew that you would have a lot to say from your reaction to the movie in class. The way the film portrays Southerners, while unfair, is representative about how much of the country felt about the South. It was an unceasingly violent region to live in for many decades. I think we can safely take the film as a testimony not of the actual behavior of Southerners every time they encountered outsiders, but of how people saw the violence there as hopeless and purposeless.

    This hits on a special point about the movie - it is what we could call a primary source of its time. It's about capturing a momentous time in the United States - a fleeting era that so many were swept up in and were stranded by. Take the film as an artifact, and it becomes so much more than a movie about a trip.