The film epitomized the Age of Aquarius. If you want to learn about the happenings in the United States in the 1960s then watch Milos Forman’s (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus) film. Of course, like most films, it is filled with fantasy and dramatic license, but boy is it a load of fun.
A naïve young man from Oklahoma named Claude Hooper Bukowski (John Savage – The Godfather Part III, Deer Hunter) has come to New York City to see what there is to see and to enlist in the Army. While walking through Central Park he sees a group of hippies, led by the enigmatic George Berger (Treat Williams – 127 Hours, Once Upon a Time in America), begging for money off of a group of people on horseback. Later his cowboy skills come in handy when he has to catch a runaway horse. This catches the eye of a mystery upper class girl (Beverly D’Angelo – American History X, National Lampoon’s Vacation). He returns the horses to the hippies and they invite him to spend some time with them.
Over the course of the evening Claude gets stoned with them and is enlightened about the numerous class and race issues of the time. They then crash the party of the mysterious upper class girl. She is not too upset as it is a change of pace from the usual stuffy party. Others don’t feel the same way and so the hippies are all arrested. Clause uses the money he has to bail George out. George gets money for the rest from his mother.
Next up is a peace rally. At the rally Claude does some acid. Jeannie suggests that she and Claude get married so he can avoid joining the Vietnam War. Sheila then arrives to offer her apologies for what happened. After he has come down from the acid he gets into an argument with the hippies over a prank they played on Sheila. The discussion evolves to one of the Vietnam War and personal vs. community responsibility. The differences in ways of thinking becomes more and more apparent.
Claude decides to go through with his original plan and enlists. George is not will to give up and comes up with a scheme to get his new friend out of the Army. He is going to make the ultimate sacrifice for Claude.
Based on a Broadway musical from the 60s that was incredibly successful, if you saw the play then you will notice that the film’s plot was almost completely overhauled. Only the music will be familiar to you.
Some might look at the film through the lenses of today’s eyes and claim that it is dated. We could go back and forth about that one, but in the end what will never be dated about the film is its examination of friendship, war, joy, and protest. What should resonate with many a viewer even (and maybe especially) today is the anti-war sentiment running through it.
Yes, from a film and filmmaking point of view there are flaws in the film. There is some terrible dialogue and a lack of logic or continuity in certain parts, but in the end the pluses outweigh the minuses. At the heart of it the film really is about portraying a section of the youth of a particular era in the U.S. and the sentiments/concerns associated with said youth.