VIRGIN TERRITORY: FIVE EASY PIECES 1970 dir. Bob Rafelson

Jack Nicholson
Jack Nicholson

When we face difficult choices, human nature puts us into a fight or flight scenario. Either we deal with the adversity or we get away from it, any way necessary. Some people may feel that surviving either way is fine, but usually you have to mix it up to continue moving forward in a healthy fashion. In the movie FIVE EASY PIECES by Bob Rafelson, we get a glimpse at someone that just continuously runs.

Working in the Texas oil fields, Bobby (Jack Nicholson) is toiling away, far from his previous life as a concert pianist from a wealthy family of musicians. He is living with his waitress girlfriend, Rayette (Karen Black), who is a sweet, beautiful woman that is willing to put up with more than she should have to. The film introduces them while the Tammy Wynette song “Stand By Your Man” is playing, setting the tone for how their relationship is.

Bobby is a good guy to have around for acquaintances, however he’s not great for his loved ones. He’s constantly unhappy with his lot in life, and takes it out on those that love him, much to the amusement of his so-called friends. The short term gain of their amusement does nothing but try to burn a bridge, but Rayette’s unconditional love for him keeps tossing a futile bucket of water on those flames.

After a visit with his sister, Partita (Lois Smith), he finds out that his father has suffered multiple strokes and is not in the best condition. Despite an obvious rift causing his departure from the family, Bobby feels an obligation to return, maybe to mend at least one broken relationship before it is too late. Bobby decides to bring Rayette along with him, out of a sense of obligation and due to a slight sense of betrayal, as he’s stepped out on her on numerous occasions. The two head off from Texas on their long drive to the Puget Sound area of Washington.

As a road movie, FIVE EASY PIECES shows an attempted growth in character, as well as showcasing its varied surroundings. From the dry, brown oil fields in Texas to the lush, green Pacific Northwest, it is filmed beautifully by László Kovács. This shouldn’t be a surprise as he had previously shot EASY RIDER.

The Tammy Wynette soundtrack mixed with the classical music played by Bobby’s family is an interesting dichotomy, much like with the mixed soundtrack from THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES. The two differing types of music create such a change of tone in the film when needed, greatly adding to the gravity of some scenes.

There are multiple scenes involving a clash of intellectuals with the sweet, simple Rayette, that showcases the battle of Bobby’s two lives he has led. While he grows easily bored of Rayette’s dreams of being a country singer, he also grows tired of the nonstop prattling of the intellectual friends of his brother and sister. He teeters on the verge of both worlds most wonderfully though during a classic scene in a diner when he is told that there are no substitutions allowed. How he handles this with the waitress is witty yet in a brash and crass sort of way.

FIVE EASY PIECES sends its characters and us as the audience on a journey, bringing up numerous questions, but leaves us to come up with the answers. Due to the masterful way this is done, it is obvious why the film was nominated for 4 Oscars.

The film is currently streaming on Netflix Instant.

Photo credit: http://cinemafanatic.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/five_easy_pieces_jack_nicholson.jpg

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