Five Easy Pieces (1970) Directed by Bob Rafelson
Even after a third viewing of Five Easy Pieces I am left with such a strong emotional impact that I feel uncertain about the sense of dissecting the film in words. A song might be a more appropriate review.
But I haven't written that song just yet. Tammy Wynette's Stand By Your Man became the walking-on-stage song for my last tour because of its significance in the movie.
Now that I think of it, there was some of Robert (Jack Nicholson) on Better Than Wages (my latest album). And there is some of Robert still lingering in my life. The refusal to settle for anything. To use the verb is too much of a compromise. Now I am talking in an entirely internal way. But it is important anyhow.
No, I have not disappeared, left my relatives, my love, my home, my class. I have not moved on in that rootless nameless manner. I do not have it in me to wear the turtle neck, pass out on the peer, fuck my brother's lover, while always looking down on people and institutions. I am too nice and conventional for that stuff. In the end it is not creative (productive?) to be like Robert, although it may be so to feel like him sometimes.
This time around the pivotal scene for me was when Catherine (Susan Anspach) and Robert sit by the ocean after their short affair is over and Robert is about to leave his home again. He is still asking her to leave with him, but she has no interest to because she can see through him. She asks: If you do not love yourself, anyone or anything, how could you ask for love?
One day in Alaska he probably asked for love. But that would have not made for such a poetic film. It may be a song though.
What do we want? Ultimately, we can think we know what we want, but how well do we know ourselves? Is what we want distorted by outside pressures? Get a job, start a band, have kids, get married, find God, travel and so on. What do these things actually add up to if you don't know yourself or are not honest with yourself? Everything we are taught, every scrap of information we receive is handed down. What individual feeling are our actions based on? What makes Jack Nicholson's Bobby in Five Easy Pieces so appealing after all these years is his searching for some kind of meaning to existence, not knowing any answers and lashing out at everything and everybody. It's an honest reaction, and it gives Rafelson's picture a genuine questioning rebellion.
When I first saw Five Easy Pieces sometime in the mid 80's it was a forgotten picture. Born out of the impact of the New Hollywood and made in the wake of the influential yet overrated Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces still stands up because it avoids sentimentality, offers no answers, ignores the obvious hippy references which blight so many pictures from this era and at it's heart has probably the greatest Nicholson performance. If Jack had not become such a big star in the 70's due to sterling work in films like One Flew Over The Cukoos Nest, Chinatown and The Shining, we might have got some more interesting characters like his Robert Dupea. This is one of the great anti-establishment performances. The fact that his character is such a shit makes his Dupea even more appealing.
Five Easy Pieces improves with every viewing, and nowadays is rightly heralded as a major film. It's one of my favorites. Rafelson collaborated a few more times with Nicholson, with The King Of Marvin Gardens from 1972 almost equaling Five Easy Pieces, a picture which maybe gives us an idea of what happened to Dupea a couple of years down the road. He gave up fighting against everything and got depressed. He got worn down. He settled for emptiness.
Five Easy Pieces is being celebrated this year for being 40 years old. If you have not seen this, search it out. It's not life affirming, but the questions it asks are worth considering.