‘Easy Rider’ was the 35mm celluloid Woodstock; it was the reckless hippy gypsies’ manifesto of endless asphalt ribbon. Of course it has dated, the fact that the road trip was funded by smuggling cocaine from Mexico has lost its romance, as has the whole – in retrospect grotesque – glorification of drugs. On the other hand, Peter Fonda’s film was the first to portray LSD as a horror show. Either way, people my age watched Fonda on the edge of our seats, wanting to be him; to feel that liberation through wind and speed across America’s boundless space, to be by that camp fire. But we didn’t want to be attacked by club-wielding rednecks, we didn’t want the bad trip, and certainly didn’t want to be gunned down on a lonely road.
Americans are in a political cold war against one another. In the age of Trump this conflict all too often feels as though it will inevitably turn hot. Americans increasingly do not talk to one another across divides of political party and values; they live in information bubbles that are self-confirming, where prior ideas and beliefs — however incorrect — are nurtured as inexorable unassailable permanent truths. This is especially true of conservatives. Donald Trump has simply taken the status quo ante of anti-intellectualism, ignorance and simple binary thinking which typifies the modern American conservative moment and amplified it for the world to see and without any shame or apologies for doing so.
The day before we met, László Nemes went to see a superhero movie. He didn’t last long. “I found it unwatchable and false, boring and self-referential, a world of ideal people who don’t behave as humans but more like machines.”
He smiles. It’s tea-time in the Islington, north London branch of Caffè Nero and Nemes gently explains that such films infantilise viewers in two ways. The plots let them defer responsibility for the fate of the world to demigods; the way they are shot – lots of signposting, everything carefully controlled – offers a false sense of omniscience.