The Girl hitchhikes a ride with the old 1955 Chevy driven across the Southwest of the United States by the Driver and the Mechanic. Aimlessly, they travel and keep stumbling upon GTO, the talkative driver of a yellow GTO who cannot fathom the power of the car he rides. The parties conclude a pink slip deal. Whoever reaches Washington D.C. first, driving on Highway 66 will win the other party’s car. Let the ultimate drag race begin.
Two-Lane Blacktop is a classic road movie from 1971 that has achieved cult status with many fans because of its French New Wave and existentialist influences. Characters come and go. Relationships form and end abruptly. There is no point to this film but the love of driving and helping your fellow human drive the best.
The Driver played by singer James Taylor almost never talks. The Mechanics, the Beach Boys’s Dennis Wilson speaks a bit more but is as stoic and cold as his partner. They have no need for words. Companionship is cemented through the love of driving the long open roads of the America. The Girl is barely legal with boyish looks and a tough careless attitude. She loves each of her buddies and plays them against one another, although to some degree, neither cares about the opportunity to compete for her affection or gaze.
GTO, the man of a thousand stories who should not be driving a car whose power he cannot control gladly gives up his car for the passenger seat after being offered a boiled egg as a token of friendship. He lets the mechanic plow through his Mustang’s engines and fix whatever stops the car from reaching its full potential. GTO is standoffish sometimes, but he really wants to connect and mesmerize his passengers with his lies and stories about what got him where he is.
Is GTO a phoney? Maybe he is. Who cares? Neither Driver, Mechanic, nor the Girl care. Let’s just ride some more and take on a few races to get just enough money to make it to the next state and avoid the cops. Critics have called this film subversive and about freedom. Apparently a review of Two-Lane Blacktop is not complete if one does not quote the famous line Kris Krisofferson’s Me and Bobby McGee. “Freedom is just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” The line is apt. No one seems to be short of money and we barely care about where they sleep or slip out of the police’s grasp in a few scene.
What is poignant about the film is how casual everything is. This was subversive in 1971. Today, we call this post-modern. And this is one of the thing that Two-Lane Blacktop shows well. There is a transition in the times. Society is moving from a mechanical and industrial modernism to another one where the deed of a car seemingly has more value than the car itself. The deed represents the onset of the post-modern times where value is on intangible property not the physical goods. But in the end no one cares about the deed. It was never enough to motivate Driver, Mechanic, and GTO.
The Girl is just there for the massages and being the ultimate backseat driver. Ignore this movie if all you want to see are drag races. Most are inconclusive. Nothing is cemented in this film. We know nothing about who these people are or even their names. Even the cars change plates frequently! A must for open-minded viewers.