Five Easy Pieces (1970) Pages: (1)
Five Easy Pieces (1970) is a moody, thoughtful character study of an alienated, misfit drifter and drop-out. It tells the story of a rough-neck California oil rigger Robert Dupea (Nicholson) who has turned his back on his well-to-do upbringing and his musical talent. After a period of self-imposed exile, discontent and restlessness for twenty years as a blue-collar worker, he returns to his home for a final reconciling visit when his father is on the verge of dying. There, he finds love with the sophisticated, musical fiancee of his brother (Anspach), turns his back on his vulgar but well-meaning girlfriend (Black), and then abandons everything by taking flight northward.
The film is most famous for the classic scene of Nicholson's outburst while ordering a plain omelette with a side of toast (ultimately a chicken salad sandwich) in a diner - symbolic of the 60s generation's rebellion and alienation during the Vietnam War Era. A second key scene is the one during traffic gridlock on a California highway, when the oil-rigger leaves his vehicle, jumps up on a truck stalled ahead, and plays a concerto on an upright piano located there.
This was director Bob Rafelson's second film (and his best work) after he had directed the television pop band the Monkees in the mind-blowing Head (1968), a surrealistic and psychedelic film that was co-written with unemployed actor Jack Nicholson, the major star in this film, and emulated the European New Wave pictures of the era. The film was nominated in four categories without Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor (Jack Nicholson), Best Supporting Actress (Karen Black), and Best Story and Screenplay (Bob Rafelson and Adrien Joyce).The Story
Robert Eroica Dupea (Jack Nicholson), a talented classical pianist and musician, has rejected his well-to-do cultured family in the Pacific Northwest's Puget Sound area, and given up his promising career as a concert pianist. But he is still restless and confused - he doesn't feel settled in the common lifestyle of a hot-tempered, Southern California blue-collar, redneck oil rigger, who drinks beer, bowls, listens to country music, and chases easy women. The two irreconciliable, contradictory worlds of his existence (his own existence and his parents' generation) are examined and contrasted:
Present Life (His Generation)
(Alternate Life Style)
Past Life (Parents' Generation)
Upper Middle-Class Culture and Values
Blue-collar worker A former musicial who has rejected his pampering, white-collar, upper-class, well-educated and over-cultivated family Lives in Southern California Left his family, who live in Pacific Northwest's Puget Sound area Redneck, hardhat oil-rigger Rebellious, despises pretentious artistic background Country western songs by Tammy Wynette Classical piano pieces by Bach, Mozart, and Chopin World of trailer parks, beer, bowling alleys, fast women, womanizing World of concerts, wine, intellectuals, large mansions Lives with pregnant, dim-witted, waitress girlfriend/lover in an unsatisfying relationship; can't commit and settle down Finds rapport with his brother's sophisticated fiancee, another classical pianist, in another ultimately impossible relationship
He lives with an ignorant, dim-witted, countrified but kind-hearted waitress girlfriend Rayette Dipesto (Karen Black) - an aspiring (and awful) country music singer. She constantly chatters to him, aggravating him: "If you wouldn't open your mouth, everything would be just fine." She pathetically clings to him and smothers him with love although he is unfaithful and not committed to her:
I'll go out with you, or I'll stay in with you, or I'll do anything that you like for me to do, if you tell me that you love me.
While visiting his sister Partita (Lois Smith) in a Los Angeles recording studio, he learns that his patriarchal father is seriously ill and dying following two strokes. The black sheep of the family, he decides to return home to Puget Sound.
In a memorable scene in his car, he struggles with himself (caught between two extremes) about whether his girlfriend (now pregnant) should join him or not, fearing being embarrassed by her lack of class or refinement. During the car trip north, he gives a lift to an aggressive, complaining lesbian couple, aggressive Palm Apodaca (Helena Kallianiotes) and passive partner Terry Grouse (Toni Basil). The countercultural, societally-alienated pair are on their way to Alaska to escape society and because it's "cleaner."
In the most memorable classic scene in a roadside diner on his way home, he is again aggravated and exasperated by meaningless rules. A live-by-the-rules waitress (Lorna Thayer) stubbornly refuses to serve him a plain omelette (with tomatoes instead of potatoes), a cup of coffee and a side order of wheat toast, because she dryly explains: "No substitutions":
Dupea: I'd like a plain omelette, no potatoes, tomatoes instead, a cup of coffee, and wheat toast.
Waitress: (She points to the menu) No substitutions.
Dupea: What do you mean? You don't have any tomatoes?
Waitress: Only what's on the menu. You can have a number two - a plain omelette. It comes with cottage fries and rolls.
Dupea: Yeah, I know what it comes with. But it's not what I want.
Waitress: Well, I'll come back when you make up your mind.
Dupea: Wait a minute. I have made up my mind. I'd like a plain omelette, no potatoes on the plate, a cup of coffee, and a side order of wheat toast.
Waitress: I'm sorry, we don't have any side orders of toast...an English muffin or a coffee roll.
Dupea: What do you mean you don't make side orders of toast? You make sandwiches, don't you?
Waitress: Would you like to talk to the manager?
Dupea: ...You've got bread and a toaster of some kind?
Waitress: I don't make the rules.
Dupea: OK, I'll make it as easy for you as I can. I'd like an omelette, plain, and a chicken salad sandwich on wheat toast, no mayonnaise, no butter, no lettuce. And a cup of coffee.
Waitress: A number two, chicken sal san, hold the butter, the lettuce and the mayonnaise. And a cup of coffee. Anything else?
Dupea: Yeah. Now all you have to do is hold the chicken, bring me the toast, give me a check for the chicken salad sandwich, and you haven't broken any rules.
Waitress (spitefully): You want me to hold the chicken, huh?
Dupea: I want you to hold it between your knees.
Waitress (turning and telling him to look at the sign that says, "No Substitutions") Do you see that sign, sir? Yes, you'll all have to leave. I'm not taking any more of your smartness and sarcasm.
Dupea: You see this sign? (He sweeps all the water glasses and menus off the table.)
After arriving, Bobby puts Rayette in a motel and visits his family alone. At his family's home, he is accused of being incapable of real feelings:
You're a strange person, Robert...A person who has no love for himself, no respect for himself, no love of his friends, family, work, something - how can he ask for love in return?
He delivers a painful, one-sided confession to his dying, paralyzed father in a wheelchair in the cold outdoors, in the film's most powerful scene. He apologizes for his abandonment of his family and talent, for giving up on his responsibilities, and for not living up to his father's high ideals, breaking down in tears mid-speech:
I don't know if you'd be particularly interested in hearing anything about me. My life, I mean... Most of it doesn't add up to much... that I could relate as a way of life that you'd approve of...I'd like to be able to tell you why, but I don't really...I mean, I move around a lot because things tend to get bad when I stay. And I'm looking...for auspicious beginnings, I guess...I'm trying to, you know, imagine your half of this conversation...My feeling is, that if you could talk, we probably wouldn't be talking. That's pretty much how it got to be before... I left...Are you all right? I don't know what to say...Tita suggested that we try to...I don't know. I think that she...seems to feel we've got...some understanding to reach...She totally denies the fact that we were never that comfortable with each other to begin with...The best that I can do, is apologize. We both know that I was never really that good at it, anyway...
He finally bows his head, sighs, and admits with sorrow, "I'm sorry it didn't work out."
As he returns home with Rayette, he ignores her observation:
There isn't anybody gonna look after you AND love you, as good as I do.
In the bleak final sequence, he abandons her in a Gulf gas station without explanation, leaving her with his wallet and car, while he catches a lift from a northbound lumber truck toward Canada and freedom. The driver promises they will travel to an even colder climate and he could borrow a jacket: "Where we're goin', it's gonna get colder than hell." He responds: "Nah, it's okay. I'm fine. Fine. I'm fine."