There is a race in "Two-Lane Blacktop," though it seems to end almost before it begins. There are extraordinary muscle cars as well, including a souped up '55 Chevy contrasted with a new Pontiac GTO. But Two-Lane Blacktop is a character study, even though the characters are not people we would particularly like to know.
The three main characters, haunted lost souls void of identity and emotion, are played by James Taylor, Dennis Wilson and Warren Oates. Taylor and Wilson silently cruise the backroads of America looking for the next race in their 55' Chevy. They eventually meet Oates, a chattering, nervous man involved in some kind of middle-age crisis while picking up hitchikers in his GTO. These men decide to race cross country, but eventually lose interest.
Throw into this uneasy mix a young hitchiker played by Laurie Bird. She jumps back and forth between these three men, holding off their awkward advances, eventually realizing their emotionless lives are headed down an endless highway without destination.
"Two-Lane Blacktop" is a morose study of men perpetually lost on the backroads of a nameless American landscape. They are hovering ghosts, void of identity, forever searching for a meaning which cannot be found. There are no easy truths or answers in Hellman's complex odyssey.Read more ›
"Two-Lane Blacktop" makes me think of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road."
The acting of the two leads is stale, but their good looks make up for it. You could almost feel the Girl's wanderlust; her character is admirable for rejecting convention in search of a larger life. G.T.O. is obviously in need of pyschiatric help, but the hitchhikers he picks up are fascinating. (It's a bonus that Harry Dean Stanton is one of them.)
See "Two-Lane Blacktop" if you just want to peacefully zone out for a couple of hours.
The first subplot is the contrast of the genuine versus the wannabe, as revealed in the cars and their owners. There has always been a street-race rivalry between the the home-built hotrod and the checkbook-aquired factory musclecar (fellow gearheads will nod knowingly). This contrast extends to The Driver, who is earthy and real, and GTO, who is always playing a role. At first, GTO tries to stand toe-to-toe with The Driver, but he is eventually subjugated by the horsepower of the '55 and the mechanical know-how of Driver and Mechanic.
The second and more interesting subplot is the tension within The Driver, who feels more comfortable with machines than with people (perhaps machines are easier to control). Believe me, this type of personality exists - confirm with any gearhead or IT professional. His machine zen is interrupted by the hitchhiker, to whom he opens himself up (barely). The hicthhiker eventually leaves, and at the end of the movie he slides shut the window of the '55 Chevy, symbolically shutting out human emotion/interaction and returning to his mechanical world.
Watch this movie looking for these subplots, and you may have a whole new viewing experience.