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REVIEW – Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)

January 19, 2012

FilmJuice have my review of Monte Hellman’s powerfully existential road movie Two-Lane Blacktop.

Two Lane Blacktop is a film about a pair of twenty-somethings who support themselves by moving from town to town and participating in drag races. This pair are so complete adrift in the world that they possess neither home nor name, all they have is their car and the open road. In fact, the pair are so emotionally detached that it barely registers when an attractive young woman decides to join them on their aimless journey. One day, the pair run into a middle-aged fantasist and challenge him to a long distance race. Sensing some element of menace from the youngsters, the fantasist agrees but is puzzled to discover that the young people have no interest in actually winning the race:

At one point the middle-aged man is driving along and spots the youngsters having breakfast in a diner. Annoyed that they seem to be taking his challenge so lightly, the old man pulls over and confronts them, angrily asking “Are we still racing?” but no answer is forthcoming. Increasingly ill at ease with this strange relationship, the older man convinces the young girl to travel with him and he takes off while the other two are racing a local. With steel in their eyes, the pair take off after the older man but rather than confront him about cheating or stealing their girl, their annoyance seems to come from the fact that he moved the relationship from one of mutual cooperation to one of competition. As the older man drives off alone, he begins to weave lies about how he won the car from the younger men using his customised muscle car.

The middle-aged man spends the entire film telling lies because he cannot cope with the hollowness of the existence he experiences on the road. Too old and too set in his ways to come to terms with life’s lack of meaning, he spins lies to make sense of his life and that of the youngsters while the youngsters just keep on moving from town to town without ever asking for or receiving any answers.

Released by Masters of Cinema with a bevy of essays and documentaries designed to bolster its status as an overlooked classic of 1960s counterculture, Two-Lane Blacktop captures the beauty and alienation of a life lived outside of traditional culture in a way that Easy Rider never quite managed.

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