Best friends Dave, Mike, Cyril and Moocher have just graduated from high school. Living in the college town of Bloomington, Indiana, they are considered "cutters": the working class of the town so named since most of the middle aged generation, such as their parents, worked at the local limestone quarry, which is now a swimming hole. There is great animosity between the cutters and the generally wealthy Indiana University students, each group who have their own turf in town. The dichotomy is that the limestone was used to build the university, which is now seen as being too good for the locals who built it. Although each of the four is a totally different personality from the other three, they also have in common the fact of being unfocused and unmotivated in life. The one slight exception is Dave. Although he has no job and doesn't know what to do with his life, he is a champion bicycle racer. He idolizes the Italian cycling team so much he pretends to be Italian, much to the chagrin...Written by
At the end of the movie, Dave and the French girl are riding their bicycles away from the music school towards the main library. Then when they ride past Dave's dad, they are in front of the music school, about 400 feet back from where they were in the previous shot. See more »
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In a bicycle race, "breaking away" describes the often-desperate solo move a rider makes in a bid to win the race. Most riders are bunched together for shared protection against the wind, and to keep an eye on their rivals--a group is always more efficient than an individual. But in moments of confusion, a single rider might just get a jump on the group and, with superhuman effort, beat the odds against going it alone and emerge victorious.
In "Breaking Away" we follow the exploits of four misfits just out of high school who contentedly contemplate a future as dead-enders. They aren't particularly smart, athletic, or good-looking, and they lack any sense of direction in their lives. Moreover, as townies, or "cutters" in a college town, they wear a spell of invisibility in their dealings with the students--the differences are painfully obvious. When they hang out on campus or lamely try to chat up the co-eds, they might as well be ghosts haunting a town they used to inhabit. Something happened when they graduated from high school and didn't go on to college: they became cutters, no better than servants, in their own confused eyes.
When we meet Dave Stoller (Dennis Christopher) we think, here's a guy who might be able to break out of his own rut. He seems to be a kid with a little more on the ball than the others. But then we see that he's also the most confused--by far. Dave is wrapped up in a fantasy world where he's an Italian bike racer, a champion of a sport virtually unknown in America at the time. That Dave's charming misfits of friends take him and his delusions in stride shows us the bond of their friendship and shared misery, and just how far off the map they've all slid.
After a chance encounter with a beautiful sorority girl (Robyn Douglass) Dave pretends to be an Italian exchange student in an effort to woo a girl he believes would otherwise be way out of his reach. He draws on his obsessive knowledge of Italian culture and his own quirky charm to fool the girl into seeing him as someone fresh and new, an outsider, but not a misfit. The romance seems to be going somewhere, and Dave feels he's finally breaking away.
While Dave is conducting his fraudulent personal life he also has an opportunity to race with the Italian bike racers he had worshiped from afar. It's his chance to get recognition from the masters of the sport. He may not have much going as a cutter, but he's certain the Italians will see his racing ability and welcome him as one of their own. But when he shows that he can keep up with them in the race, naively hoping for their approval, they throw him into a ditch. Dave's fantasy world comes crashing down.
When Dave realizes that the Italians will fight to protect their turf just as much as the Americans he resents, his first reaction is to give up--"everybody cheats" he says resignedly. And he rejects the friends who had looked to him for something more--his three chums and their own struggles, and the sorority girl, who had seen in him something special.
Only Dave can save Dave, but it is his father's hard words that prompt him into action. To Dave and his friends, a "cutter" is someone who doesn't measure up to the college kids who are going somewhere in their lives. They affect being misfits because a misfit is one rung on the ladder above how they see themselves, which is as losers. But Dave's father points out that "cutters" were the original stonecutters who built the grand buildings on the campus. They may not be college-educated, Dave's father says, but to them "cutter" is a badge of honor for the hard-working men who built something real out of the flat earth. Dave will never be a "cutter", he says, meaning a man of accomplishment, unless he finds something equally real to do with his own life.
The Indiana Little 500 is a bike race the university holds that is taken very seriously by the groups that participate. At the time, it was the largest race in America, and fraternities counted some of the best American bike racers on their squads. But to Dave and his friends who are invited to race, it is a chance to prove to the students (and themselves) that their lives so far weren't just wasted time.
Yes, Dave is a gifted bike racer, but we already knew that. But the Little 500 (and life) requires that one rely upon not just inner strength, but the creative use of the strengths of others. It is a team race. What Dave learns when testing himself against these college students that he never felt would give him the time of day, is that the biggest obstacle to his own success was himself.
"Breaking Away" is a rich visual tapestry of life lived outside the spotlight. The characters are not fancy or sophisticated, and their life goals are simple and well within reach. It is themselves they struggle with, and their perceptions of themselves. "Breaking Away" is the story of kids who had let their own self-image degrade to the point that a fantasy world, and a life of bitter resentment, seemed like their best option.
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