Saturday, January 25, 2014

Five Easy Pieces by Bob Rafelson

Jack Nicholson, in his early years, appeared in many films as a drifter, a drop-out, a man who could not accept the rules or the suffocation of his environment.  The fact that he speaks in such a measured voice, pronouncing each word like claret poured into a crystal glass, makes us feel that there is a seething cauldron just beneath the surface.  And when he explodes, it is truly marvelous to witness.

In The Shining, contrast his interview at the hotel at the beginning of the film, and then his breakdown toward the end:

In Five Easy Pieces, we find ourselves witnessing a vignette from the life of a bitter, alienated man.  The film was widely acclaimed, and is open to many interpretations.  There is even a Christian interpretation here.

His character in this film doesn't love anybody, and it is doubtful whether he loves himself.  He cannot stand anyone making any demands on him.  And love is demanding, so he rejects love.  First within himself, then in those who profess love for him.

What is the fate of such a man?  What is the fate of many such men who are thoughtful, have an evolved mind, but are restless and cannot seem to find a way to exert themselves towards some kind of fulfillment?

Such men are talented, but because they are too proud, they reject authority of any kind.  Even the shackle of time and practice which would make them good at something.  They drift, from one relationship to the other, one job to the other, one town to the other, and perhaps that is the natural life for them.  It might be somewhat agonizing, but so would be a life where they feel imprisoned and stale.  And one can only imagine the agony that they cause to those who cross their path in life: friends, lovers, family, ...  For instance, it is heartbreaking to imagine the state of mind of his lover (she can't be called his beloved, at least not without explanation) at the end of the film.  It is one of the darkest film endings, especially because though we disagree with the choices he makes, we also understand why he does so.

His character says at one point: "I leave things before they go bad."  There are moments in the film where we can see that he is not a sociopath.  He does have a heart, but he is at war with it.  Because at some level, perhaps he realizes the ephemeral nature of its pleasures.

"There is no permanent happiness, so why bother?" seems to be his credo.

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