“You’re a strange person, Robert. I mean, what will you come to? If a person has no love for himself, no respect for himself, no love of his friends, family, work, something - how can he ask for love in return? I mean, why should he ask for it?
When I finished watching Five Easy Pieces, I was immediate left with three thoughts.
- Man, Five Easy Pieces a great, great film. I have seen some good films throughout my 20 Day sightseeing tour in VHS Hell, but this film really blew me away.
- Jack Nicholson is an incredible actor. I was born so long after the prime of Jack Nicholson that I never was interested in seeing his earlier films, but after seeing Five Easy Pieces, I can see why he is revered as one of the greatest actors of all time.
- This is the first movie, at this point in my life, that has affected me greatly. Every few years, I watch a movie that really has a profound effect on me, for better or worse.
As I type this review, I am a reasonably healthy, currently unemployed, 24 year old male, with a jagged mountain of college debt, and two degrees in a field that I really don’t care much about anymore (or if ever).
Inside the fingertips, I am using to type these words, flows blood simmering with frustration. I can feel the heat coursing throughout my body, most of the blood pooling in my heart, but as I near the end of this sentence, I can feel it rush to my brain.
I find myself at this point in life where I have exhausted an absorbent amount of energy chasing a dream that I only ever had while I was awake. A dream derived from loud external stimuli, followed earnestly like a boy trying to escape a corn maze, even after so many perceived reasonable turns, burning down the walls seems the only means of escape.
On the other side of the popcorn fog, I can see myself resembling Bobby Dupea (Jack Nicholson) a voluntarily isolated man who avoids progress, instead focusing on immediate gratification. An emotionally apathetic man whose past seems to far behind to retreat to, and his future a pothole riddled road filled with only more uncomfortable truths about life.
Though I may not ever become Bobby, or at least I tell myself that I won’t. I couldn’t help but feel an engulfing sadness as I watched Bobby’s futile efforts to try to restore his “life”, when in actuality he has no life. He is just a man, whose has many faces, many personalities, many stories, many talents, many lives, but not one life that he can call his own. To live a true life is to face the truth that we cannot live a life of individualism.
There is no bravery in removing yourself from the world, hiding from the inevitability of relationships, breakups, failure, triumph, sadness, and if you allow yourself joy. We can never find our place in the world because we don’t have a specific place. We are not pegs looking for a hole, or cogs waiting to be placed inside a machine.
We are floating atoms held together by nature, not by choice.
There is no place to run too, there is no place to escape, because the gravity of the world will always bring you back to face your life.
Bobby Dupea is a former child piano prodigy, who now lives a life as an oil worker in the fields of California. He believes he doesn’t belong in this current version of his life, but still chooses to live it over facing the fact that he can change it. Comfortable in a simple life that can be seen as beneath him.
He spends most of his time hanging out with his “friend” Elton and his waitress girlfriend Rayette Dipesto (Karen Black) (Who is really great in the film as well). Where as Rayette day dreams of being a country singer, Bobby’ rather spend his time getting drunk, going bowling, or having sex with other women. All these things that allow him to pacify any simmering emotions in his life.
After Bobby’s friend Elliot is arrested for robbing a gas station and Rayette gets pregnant, he escapes to Los Angeles to Visit his loving sister, who is a successful pianist.
She informs him that their father is dying and he should go visit him before he does. Bobby decides that he will, but before he heads of to Washington, Rayette tells him that she will commit suicide if he leaves her. He begrudgingly tells her to come with him.
Along the way they pick up two hitchhiking women who are trying to get to Alaska. In this one great scene all for of them try to get lunch, but the waitress in not very accommodating to Bobby’s substitution request.
Even when it comes to eating food, Bobby refuses to take life the way it is given to him. Yes, he does have a reasonable gripe but those are the rules of the establishment, and unlike the way he avoids the things in his life that cause him discomfort, he must obey the rules in this diner.
Though small, it is a situation that he can’t charm or intellectualize his way out of, so he avoids it altogether.
Ashamed of Rayette’s demeanor and education, he pays for her to stay in a motel while he visits his family. At his family’s house we meet his family members who are group of snobbish and musically inclined intellectuals. Bobby also meets Catherine Oost (Susan Anspach), a young pianist engaged to his younger brother, Carl (Raplh Waite).
In this scene, we see Bobby’s play a Chopin piece on the piano, while Catherine is taken by the feeling of the performance, Bobby chuckles saying there was no feeling behind his performance. He was merely performing one of Chopin easier songs.
Whereas Catherine allows herself to be emotional connected to the playing of the piano Bobby’s is merely trying to woo her. The song holds no significance to him it is just a means to and end. He doesn’t love playing piano, he doesn’t love the song, he doesn’t love Catherine, he just wants to see what will happen.
Having a mutual attraction to each other despite, their stark differences, they decide to make love.
Rayette shows up to Bobby’s house after being kicked out of the motel because it wasn’t being paid. As expected, she is treated badly by the family and their arrogant friend. Who chooses to mock and ridicule Rayette like she is some sociologically specimen.
As the dust settles, Bobby decides to ask Catherine to leave with him. She declines, telling him that he doesn’t love anyone not even himself. Before he leaves he tries one more time to speak to his unresponsive father.
Bobby avoids all the emotional experiences that help you come to terms with and maybe even help you overcome your misgiving about your life.
Bobby’s ends up leaving his home with Rayette. When they stop at a gas station on the way home. He gives her his wallet and tells her to go buy some to get coffee inside. He then hitches a ride from a trucker leaving Rayette and that one version of his life behind.
Five Easy Pieces is a film about man searching for an identity and purpose he can’t seem to find. He believes by emotionally shutting himself off from the world he won’t allow himself to feel the pain his separation from the world has caused him. Jack Nicholson’s gives an incredible performance of a man whose ever present frustration with his life, leaves him in a permanent existential crises. Five Easy Pieces is a really incredible film which challenges viewers to watch a man question his own life, and after the film is finished may leave them questioning theirs.
Five Easy Pieces is a powerful case study about a man who can’t seem to connect with the unsentimental world, yet whose voluntary segregation leaves him emotionally apathetic.
“You can escape purgatory, but you can’t escape Hell.” - Priest in My Left Foot
This has been day 20 of 30 VHS In 30 DAYS. My journey to the center of VHS Hell. Special thanks to I Luv Video in Austin, The World’s Largest Video Store, for being my spiritual and literal guide through VHS purgatory.