Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Five Easy Pieces

One of those seminal movies, the kind that when you look back you realize there was before Five Easy Pieces and after Five Easy Pieces. It sort of meanders from one scene to the next, and nothing is really resolved, as so often happen in real life. After laboring for years in low-budget potboilers, Jack Nicholson had just broken out with his small part in Easy Rider, and he would never look back. Here he is Robert Eroica “Bobby” Dupea (his sister is Partita, and his brother is Carl Fidelio, talk about your musical family!), son of a wealthy, cultured family and a trained concert pianist, who has left home to drift. He’s working as a roughneck in the oil fields of Texas, slumming with people well below his station in life. He is partnered with Karen Black, an empty-headed working-class girl who likes to watch TV a lot. When he learns his father has suffered a stroke, they set out for Washington State and the family home on an island.

Bobby is not a very nice man. He treats Karen like shit. He is deeply conflicted between his upbringing and the wandering life he has made for himself. Karen is a source of embarrassment to him. But the intellectual phonies at his family’s home are almost laughably empty-headed, in a totally different way from the rednecks he has been living among. He has a moment with his father, trying to communicate with the vegetable he has become, and we get a hint of the past, but not much. And he finally abandons Karen and the car at a gas station in Oregon and hitches a ride on a log truck. Clearly, he will soon be a lumberjack.

This movie contains one of those scenes that has been shown a thousand times which, for some reason it is impossible to put your finger on, has become iconic. It’s the famous “I want you to hold it between your knees” scene, where Jack tries to order something off the menu at the No Substitutions Diner. There is no question it is a brilliant scene, even if the movie looked a little less brilliant than I remembered these many year later.