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Film Review: The Bikes of Wrath

As a fan of John Steinbeck, I was fascinated by the prospect of this documentary film which combines his literature with a story about travel and bicycles. Three of my favourite things in one story.

John Steinbeck’s book ‘Grapes of Wrath’ is the story of the Joad family, who are poor tenant farmers, living in rural Oklahoma during the Great Depression. Their struggles are amplified by the drought conditions bought on by the Dust Bowl and they find themselves destitute and without hope, so they set-off to California to find work. Reaching California, they find the state oversupplied with labour; wages are low, and workers are exploited to the point of starvation. So, not the salvation they had desired.

The Bikes of Wrath follows five Australian friends as they attempt to cycle 2,600 kilometres from Sallisaw, Oklahoma to the Salinas Valley in California with only $430 to pay their way. They took along some instruments thinking they could earn some extra cash as they travelled! 

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Travelling through rural towns and communities of Middle America, the group seeks to understand how the country has changed since the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s, exploring the wealth gap, religion, immigration and the American Dream. Along the way, they meet some interesting characters who epitomise the people who inhabit rural communities and whose family roots link back to the times of the Great Depression. As a tribute to Steinbeck’s masterpiece, they film these local folks reading extracts from the ‘Grapes of Wrath’- powerful stuff. In one of my favourite scenes, they come across a homeless man on the side of the road who obviously has mental health issues and rather than carry on their way they talk to him showing great compassion for his plight. They then send for assistance and wait whilst the man is helped by the police. 

Needless to say, I loved this documentary and there are some extraordinarily touching moments as these friends explore not only the lands they pass through but their own personal journies to this point. There are of course plenty of physical struggles with their equipment and bodies which makes for compelling viewing! 

Bikes of Wrath is available on Prime Video & Vimeo

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