"Dean greatly inspires a lot of people with this raw animal sexual magnetism that he had," said Rivera. "This is 1948-49 when all these things happened, and society was just very sexually repressed, and you were a virgin on your wedding night and all those things, in a very conservative country. So when he sort of roars into town, he brings a sexuality that just seems startling to everyone around him." And although K-Stew can seem a little too passive in the film, she has her feisty moments, and with other previously muted female characters, asserts her disgust with Dean Moriarty's reckless mack daddy-ing.
But what about the Latino subtext?
The premise of the novel is a sense of alienation from mainstream America, as played out by two men who have suffered a loss of their fathers. Fueled by the intellectual atmosphere of Columbia University, where Sal Paradise and Carlo Marx study, and the peak of the jazz age in New York, they go on the road in search of meaning, a romantic attempt to escape the sterilization of encroaching suburban life and what the beats perceived as an emerging surveillance state.
Early on, Sal finds his first love (post-failed marriage) with Terry, a "sweet Mexican girl" played by Brazilian actress Alice Braga (City of God, I Am Legend). They take jobs picking cotton, a nightmarish task most often associated with African-Americans, but out West practiced by huge numbers of Mexican migrant workers (even briefly joined by Puerto Ricans at one point in the 1930s ). "One night the Okies went mad in the roadhouse and tied a man to a tree and beat him to a pulp with sticks," wrote Kerouac in the novel about his time with Terry. "From then on I carried a big stick with me in the tent in case they got the idea we Mexicans were fouling up their trailer camp. They thought I was a Mexican, of course; and in a way I am."
Sal (Sam Riley) and Terry (Alice Braga) in Mexico.
"This was part of Kerouac's personal experience, attempting to live the life of the people [of color], and I never felt he was judging them," said Rivera. "I felt he was living with them on their own terms and I like that."
Keroauc also liked to think of himself as a "Negro," a sentiment at the root of much of "beatness," which refers to the almost-forgotten link between being bohemian and living on no money. He writes: "At lilac evening I walked with every muscle aching among the lights…in the Denver colored section, wishing I were a Negro, feeling that the best the white world had offered was not enough ecstasy for me, not enough life, joy, kicks, darkness, music, not enough night."