Movie Review, Title Five Easy Pieces, Studio Columbia TriStar, Rating 3.0, too much alienation
The movie Five Easy Pieces was all the rage when it was made, a tale of alienation in a time when many fancied themselves agents of great change, so I decided to finally watch the whole thing, having only seen the famous chicken sandwich scene. Jack Nicholson's performance was excellent. The film, alas, for me, was too psychologically brutal to enjoy, and left me wondering what the point was.
The main character Bobby Dupea was brought up in social isolation on a Pacific Northwest island, the product of an intellectualized upbringing: His father raised his children to embrace classical literature and thinking and to perform music. The five easy pieces of the movie title refers to a book of piano pieces he learned as a child.
As an adult he has rejected his upbringing, his musical training and his family, and drifts, rarely playing his piano, seeking, what? Bobby bounces from casual job to job, place to place, and forms tentative relationships with women and a few of the men he works with. He is a most unhappy man. And why is he unhappy? What might make him happy?
Well, a stark tale of alienation cannot of course directly reveal the source or the particulars of that alienation, and Five Easy Pieces is nothing if not such a tale. And so Bobby is ultimately a tragic character with few redeeming features. He is by turns moody, rude, insensitive, duplicitous, horny and just plain mean. Having lost whatever psychological moorings he might have once had, he makes no effort to be good either to himself or others.
The psychological milieu of this story could easily have been lifted from Camus’ The Stranger: Mersault had a similar disconnected, lost quality, although his character seemed more inert, embalmed, an annoying mystery. Dupea’s character is darker. He could easily serve as the poster boy for the tired old religious arguments regarding the evils of modern life: believe in our religion, or you will exist only as a man empty of spirit, and therefore deeply unhappy, chasing the immediately unsatisfying pleasures of the world, capable of anything.
Although Bobby Dupea is not destructive in any physical sense – he does not kill – his corrosive behavior damages those around him, and he seemed unable to rouse any effort towards others, if not for himself. This film grinds into your face the adage that you can’t love others until you love yourself. As GOB Bluth liked to say – Come on! – even lost souls have moments of redemption: Even in the face of fear and uncertainty, a person can make the choice to be kind to others.