Five Easy Pieces (Rafelson, 1970)

My second viewing of Rafelson’s masterpiece and it only got better. Fascinating to think when exactly Jack Nicholson’s loner/pianist Bobby shifted from passionate prodigy to bitter/isolationist drifter? Or if there ever was a shift. Something inside his personality, his doubts about acceptance in such a high pressure family, finally evolving into a direct discomfort for the status quo, which throughout the film continues to grow into other facets of his life; like his relationships with women (as seen in the tragic performance by Karen Black). Bobby, as played by the fierce Nicholson, falls somewhere between lover and hater, a man who cannot pinpoint the love for his family nor the hatred for what it represents. This performance personifies the anti-hero we’ve grown so accustomed to in the American New Wave of the 1970’s, but for me it’s more than that. Bobby can be seen as a wanderer, who does inflict verbal assaults on victims who may or may not deserve it. But toward the end, with his stroke victim father framed by a stunning sunset, Eastman’s script brings out new layers of Bobby’s personality, if only for one fleeting moment. He does care about his pianist sister, even his clueless fiddler brother. It’s really himself he can’t muster enough strength to recognize any sort of goodness or hope. The final long shot, an almost empty view of Bobby’s escape from all things mainstream (marriage, love, stability), is even more haunting when you think about where he’s going to end up; a frozen hell without the comfort of even a jacket to keep him warm.

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