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PAPER ON ROAD TRIP NORTEAMERICA
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  “The Great (North) America Road Trip: Driving Toward a Continental Identity”Abstract: From 2000 to 2010, Canada, the United States, and Mexico producednew cinematic interpretations of the road trip narrative. This comparative researchpaper examines three films, Canada’s One Week  , the United States Transamerica, and Mexico’s Y tu mamá también, providing a critical analysis of each film in thecontext of national cinema traditions and contemporary national identities. Thistravel narrative has a uniquely continental pull, with the last decade’s productionand consumption of the road movie solidifying it as a North American genre. Eachfilm indicates a hoped-for society that respects diversity, values its environment,and encourages self-realization for all its members. Keywords: national identity, cinema, travel, integration, road movie     “It’s as if physical mobility is standing in for the dream of social mobilitythat North American society has been unable to deliver.”--Alexander Wilson, The Culture of Nature: North American Landscape from Disney to the Exxon Valdez. A young man, dissatisfied with his present existence, decides to take aspontaneous trip across the country. Needing little more than a set of wheels, he embarkson a journey destined for revelatory run-ins with strangers, awe-inspiring landscapes, andultimate self-discovery. The iconic landscape is desert, and a general westward trajectoryis standard. It is the act of driving and the experience of the unfamiliar that generates profound personal growth. The story is familiar to North Americans, who have engagedwith the road trip narrative for over half a century.From 2000 to 2010, Canada, the United States, and Mexico produced newcinematic interpretations of this narrative. Examining each country’s approach to a singlefilm genre reveals unique national values, while the continent’s contribution to a singlefilm genre hints at what values North Americans share. Canada, the U.S., and Mexico allused the road movie to negotiate citizenship in the 21 st century. The definition of citizenship includes both the rights and the responsibilities of a national. The NorthAmerican road movie suggests who is granted freedoms and protections, and who is not;it explores what the millennial citizen looks like, and how it relates to its country.While almost a passing comment in Wilson’s history of continental tourismdevelopment, the substitution of physical mobility for social mobility lies at the heart of  North America’s love affair with the road movie. In its every incarnation, the road tripnarrative presents automobile travel across a national landscape as transformative, to beembarked upon when life’s circumstances need rejuvenation. In this model, the North   American individual undergoes personal metamorphosis, while the society that spurredthe journey remains unchanged. We learn to live out our rebellious urges on the road, toredirect our lack of fulfillment to the gas pump, the roadside motel, and the silver screenfantasy of a life of unbounded mobility and choice.And yet, within this false paradigm of change, the 21 st century North Americanroad movie succeeds in expressing a profound desire for the renegotiation of nationalidentities. A renegotiation that honors the racial, sexual, and economic diversity of eachnation, that holds the natural environment in high esteem, and that encourages self-discovery and fulfillment through shared experience and connectedness with others.Ultimately, the commonality of these desires provide hope for a shared vision of progressin North America.The road movie is but one of myriad ways to explore national identity on screen,yet it has been chosen repeatedly, and by all nations in North America. This sharednarrative has a uniquely continental pull, with the last decade’s production andconsumption of the road movie solidifying it as a North American genre. National Identity and the Road Movie The road movie as a genre was not widely recognized until the late 1960s, though prototypes of the road travel narrative entered American cinema in the 1930s. Early roadfilms like  It Happened One Night  (Frank Capra, 1934) and Sullivan’s Travels (PrestonSturges, 1941) were driven by class differences, and ultimately reinforced a socially andeconomically stratified America (Cohan and Hark, 1997: 5). The road movie also hasroots in Hollywood Westerns, with  Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967) merging theoutlaw narrative with automobile-centered action and cinematography. It was not until   Dennis Hopper’s canonical  Easy Rider  (1969) that explicit consideration of nation andidentity became a standard road movie component.  Easy Rider  follows two men famously “search[ing] for America” on a motorcycle journey from Los Angeles to New Orleans, who are ultimately disappointed in the lack of true freedom displayed by their fellow countrymen, including themselves. Film scholar David Laderman considers the film “instrumental in launching the American independentnarrative film as a successful and profitable reflection of the counterculture” (Laderman,2002: 66). It is significant that one of the earliest, most successful expressions of analternative national identity took the form of a road movie. With Hollywood’s influenceunparalleled in the North American film industry, Hopper’s narrative approach sooninfluenced international filmmakers.The following year, Don Shebib released Canada’s take on the road movienarrative, Goin’ Down the Road  (1970). Set in eastern Canada, the film follows two NovaScotia natives on their journey to Toronto as they seek gainful employment. The roadmovie format so captured Canadian audiences that Goin’ Down the Road  is widelyconsidered canonical in Canadian national cinema, and was one of nine films chosen byCanada Post for a 1996 series of commemorative stamps to celebrate one hundred yearsof Canadian film (Gittings, 2002: 2). Goin’ Down the Road  has had a lasting impact onCanadian culture, with a 40 th anniversary sequel titled Goin’ Down the Road Again (2011) produced en memoriam of its landmark predecessor.The cultural significance of   Easy Rider  and Goin’ Down the Road  lies in thenarrative structure of each film as it adheres to the road movie format. These foundationalworks established the road movie genre as one with certain universal traits. Laderman
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