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Five Easy Pieces Review

Blue-collar workers are not just the hard-hat wearing, booze-loving simpletons that Hollywood depicts them as. Some have hidden talents. They have desires and dreams, but they have been streamlined into a job that pays the bills. Barely. Nothing in Five Easy Pieces is more expressive of a desire to escape than Jack Nicholson in the back of a moving van, playing the piano as the road diverts and the truck takes him off to the right, leaving his friend and fellow workmate to drive onwards and away from him. It is a symbolic divider, the desire to escape from the hard, physical graft to pursue his clear and deeply held artistic talents. It is not an opportunity afforded to everyone. Robert Dupea (Nicholson) is not one of those this chance is afforded to.

He spends much of his time trying to escape, either intentionally or accidentally. As he is ridden away into the sunset, slamming the keys of the piano, bashing out a rendition of Frédéric Chopin’s Fantaisie. Do we expect a working man to know of Chopin? Is it ignorant to assume he doesn’t? In the instance of Five Easy Pieces, the weakest portion is knowing Dupea is a drop out from the socialite lifestyle. He has abandoned the canapé and classics to live the life of a hard-working man. Why? The abandonment of his upbringing is fascinating because usually, it is the working man that dreams of money, not the moneyed man dreaming of work. 

To me, it is just a stereotype we have come to assimilate, especially in the United Kingdom. Is the working man all that caring for culture and art? Five Easy Pieces does display a true working man in the form of Elton (Billy Bush). He is simple, philandering and likes to drink. To some degree then the stereotype of the working man drinking his way through the world is not parried well enough. Dupea is not a working man because in his heart is the ability to return to a lifestyle he used to live. He returns there from time to time, playing the piano for his buddies in an act of camaraderie, but he is thieving and ultimately does not care for his impact. He is the free-loading man trapped in something he constructed himself, and it is hard to sympathise with the man with artificial experiences. That scene on the road where he diverts away from the traffic jams and the honking horns depicts him as a man to escape. But he is always free to do so. He can always break free.

Yet even when he is faced with the opportunity to break free, take the risk and pursue something new, Bobby is reserved and fearful. Five Easy Pieces implies that escape is not the hard part, it is the immediate aftershock that everybody seems to struggle with. He did it once before, but cannot seemingly do it again. “Do you have what it takes?” it seems to ask. Many people are shackled with unbridled creativity. They are scared to tap into it not because they are ignorant, but because they fear they may actually be good at it. Could I do something that isn’t writing? Probably not, no. I have no other adaptable skills. I cannot cook, I do not work well in manual labour, and the menial tasks bore me. Perhaps they wouldn’t if I didn’t believe I could pursue that road, in the back of a moving van, slamming out the keys to Fantaisie.

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Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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