Five Easy Pieces: A Cultural Statement and Dissatisfaction

Five Easy Pieces: A Cultural Statement and Dissatisfaction

There’s a really good reason why pretty much anyone living in the United States and watches movies, working past a surface examination of plot, knows the name Roger Ebert. It’d be hyperbole to call the man a genius, but he sure does know a lot about movies. And writes about ‘em with a clarity which escapes a great many other critics.

Over time, searching out intelligent comment on just about any film, Ebert’s name groups up close to the top of those Google search results. And more often then not, what’s on the other side of the link is deeply felt, honest and useful writing. On occasion, though, he misses the point. And it’s confusing when he does.

Five Easy Pieces isn’t held in the same esteem as a number of other early seventies movies involving rotating players like Bob Rafelson, Martin Scorsese, László Kovács, Robert DeNiro or Jack Nicholson. Maybe it should be, maybe not. And while Ebert sets about detailing the plot and letting readers know how he assesses Nicholson’s Robert Eroica Dupea character, the summation of his review is something about road movies and questing. There’s a bit in there about distaste for middle class values as well.

But Five Easy Pieces encompasses so much more, it’s really hard to believe Ebert didn’t catch it all.

Granted, when we first meet Dupea, he’s working in an oil field, duking random trollops picked up at the bowling alley, fighting with his girlfriend and eventually fighting with law enforcement. Soon viewers learn Dupea’s upbringing belies his now crude life.

After meeting his sister in a recording studio whiles she’s engaged in recording some auld tyme classical stuff, it becomes clear Dupea’s working class existence was chosen, not betrothed. The character was raised in relative seclusion in the bucolic environs of an island just west of Seattle, accessible only by ferry at most times.

Dupea eventually returns home, auspiciously depositing his trashy girlfriend at a motel first. And while his distaste for the intellectual climate cultivated by not just his brother, but various guests (including some broad he’ll eventually insult and bed down).

Here, Ebert’s right. Dupea only has scornful looks and words for the over-read, would be academics. And to a certain extent that and his boredom as a laborer is the point. But it’s also about having a place in one world or the other. Sometimes, even running doesn’t result in arriving somewhere. And maybe Five Easy Pieces isn’t about the journey or travel, but the desire to escape painful interactions with everyone in proper civilization.