Bob RafelsonFive Easy Pieces (1970), 8/10

Five Easy Pieces is one of those films that exists in a vacuum, yet it is elevated further by its era and the film’s timeless ideals. Nicholson’s performance of course is legendary, and his powers are at their peak, but the film would be nothing without the broader context of Bobby Dupea’s pragmatic ineptitude and ultimately unrealized struggle for meaning. This clashing of the working and ruling class, like a broader meritocracy, plays out in an intimate fashion, but shares a depth of exploration of work, class, and their shared meanings with great novels like Morrison’s The Bluest Eye or Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener. My personal experience with this dichotomy aids the efficacy of the film and its motif of disparate culture clashing, but that’s what a great film does I suppose, has an emotional effectiveness in conjunction with our human experience. Whether it’s the angst in his interactions with Ray or his outbursts at the diner and at his family affair, there is an easily identifiable but unreachable honesty to his character in practically every scene. I came along very late to the game with this film, but its story was impactful nonetheless and stuck with me for quite a while. Most of its staying power comes from Dupea’s strange, dichotomous personality and his baffling behavior. There are moments of pure satisfaction as well but Bobby’s observance and interactions with Ray and with his family provide more than enough to chew on. We all have surely experienced a man of this fashion, directly or indirectly, especially in the 21st century they seem to be multiplying at an alarming rate. Men who use women as a void for their angst and lack of compassion, as a victim for their anger, dissatisfaction and for their base physical needs. This abuse is extended beyond Ray, but she is clearly Bobby’s tool for these desires, and he shows little to no respect for her or her desires in life or in their relationship. Then there’s the juxtaposition of Bobby’s life as a part of the American working class with his former life as a part of a prestigious, intellectual and art-appreciating family. In some moments, the film doesn’t take a stance on what is a better or worse way to live, but there is a clear denunciation from Dupea that argues for a simpler life of respect and consideration. The irony is not lost here in his character, but it just makes his struggle that much more complicated. The freedom given to the viewer to adjust or take issue with dialogue is something characteristic of great storytelling and helps this film immensely, vitally in fact. Of course, it is easy to point at some of these characters and dismiss them as simple assholes (and they may in fact be just that), but there is a serious complexity that can easily be missed. Just as there is always another side to things in the real world, there is an inherent psychology to these characters that makes the film worthwhile. It does take a realistic approach to character development which can be frustrating, but in the end is supremely rewarding albeit unsatisfying. Nicholson and Karen Black are absolutely outstanding at relaying this complexity, as is Lois Smith and the silent but powerful William Challee. Five Easy Pieces is a timeless and marvelous story, and an excellent film experience that continues to actualize greater meaning with time like a subtly noted, fine whiskey.