Two-Lane Blacktop ★★★★★

Lucia Salas
What is it (the film) about?
Well, it’s about an hour and ¾
Monte Hellman

I remembered this film so different from what it was that I even had the idea that Warren Oates played a creep in it. Perhaps because of the way he first appears, stopping next to the Chevy to wave before he outruns them, in the company of an odd-looking Foucault clon. And also this first building of his character as someone who’s trying to bring some Duel into this structural-landscape film, taking the competition seriously.
But how could I have this distorted idea if he gets to have the single most beautiful scene in the film? Just before the end, in the car show. The scene is very brief and still is unforgettable. The girl is sleeping in the back seat of the G.T.O. and he comes into the driver’s seat. It’s only one shot, from the windshield in which you can see both the front and the backseat, but the light is very low so The girl has to approach the front seats in order to be in full sight. Oats, on the other hand, is fully lighted. The car-show lights reach hit him in a way in which his face appears to be glowing, even producing its own light. She sees him and you can see for a second she’s a little annoyed or worried, or maybe she just woke up from another evening that was all about the cars and that’s enough. Also, the G.T.O. is much more comfortable, as he makes it an inhabitable space. Not only the nice leather interior and the fact that it has actual seats both in the front and in the back, but all the trunk amenities and arrangements that indicate that he would rather have a nice moving space to invite someone if the miracle of getting to know another human arrives, than having an extra bag of clothes for himself.
He leans forward and fixes the rear-view mirror in order for them to be able to see each other’s faces and asks: “where to?”. So she laughs and leans a little forward also, getting in touch with the light from the glowing Oates. They only have a short conversation until a guy comes in and Oates has to go out to do some car stuff, but the expression in his face in that scene, in the moment he looks fully into the mirror, is almost the exact face John Wayne did when in a scene in which his character meets a young beautiful woman. It’s like a double movement, up and down, but that is not an actual movement but arrangement of the elements of the face, that create a tension between getting closer and running away. The eyebrows go down and the forehead frowns directly up, not in an angry way but as being overwhelmed. It’s the look of being mesmerized by someone who, they think, will never be mesmerized by them. In Wayne’s case, this is not true and finally, he gets the girl. But not this girl, and this is why Oates’s gesture is more complete: because GTO knows that all the promises the scene makes are only for the present, that is as far as they will materialize. As he has learned that the way he sees time and being in the world is different from the one these kids have. He tries to understand them, to keep the rhythm, he gets frustrated so many times trying to bring back that competition that after 15 minutes no one but him is thinking about, he’s amazed by their moves, their non-conversations, about everything. And this is the moment prior to the time he finds out there is a limit on the illusion of belonging. He’s just from a different time in which men are one way, and have to do certain things and escaping them means a different kind of going around. As the kids are not running away, they are only running. They are producing a life, not avoiding to reproducing. This is the exact moment that comes before one generation dies, a movement the movie was so beautifully trying to prevent from happening by creating this last encounter.