The movie "Breaking Away" presents the story of a young man from working class origins who seeks to better himself by creating a persona through which he almost, but not quite, wins the girl. The rivalry between the townies and the college students sets the scene for the story of four friends who learn to accept themselves as they 'break away' from childhood and from their underdog self-images. Dave Stoller, the main character, is a young man completely obsessed with cycling and Italy. His fantasies are so well fabricated that he drives his family crazy by behaving and speaking as if he were an Italian cyclist. Dave aspires to be one of the best cyclists yet the best racers are Italian. He feels that in order to be the best, he must be Italian.
Dave carries his fantasy one step too far when he pretends to be an Italian exchange student in order to impress an attractive female college student. When he discovers that he actually likes her and confesses his charade, she ends the romance. This single act reveals to the audience that Dave is ashamed and embarrassed to tell Kat that the truth about his background; he obviously did not like who he was - a cutter. Dave felt that in order to win Kat he needed to pretend to be someone who he was not. However, his plan did not go over well causing him to lose Kat. Dave's father is a used-car salesman who disapproves of his son's Italian fantasies.
Dave's father thinks his son is crazy, lazy, and that acting as if he were an Italian is probably going to get Dave locked up and keep him from getting a decent education or a good job. Dave is made aware of his father's feelings several times throughout the movie. He realizes when his parents are discussing Dave's future loudly and when Dave's father does not acknowledge Dave when giving a customer a test-drive. The race in which Dave competes with his heroes the Italian racing team, the Cinzanos, serves as an important scene for Dave's self-actualization. Dave is working hard to be at the same level as the famed cyclists. He tries to converse with them during the race to find that they only ignore him.
As Dave is catching up to them, he is humiliated when the Cinzanos sabotage the race causing Dave to fall off his bike. Here, Dave discovers that they are meaner, shallower, and more class-conscious than the hated university students. Dave realizes that he is not an Italian nor wants to be one as he takes down the posters of the famed Italians from his bedroom walls. He lost his hopes and ideals that he found in his heroes.
After the race, Dave is convinced to enter the cycling race against the college students by his friends. Yet, his friend Mike is hesitant about the competition commenting that maybe the university students are better. However, this comment is made because Mike became timid after he had challenged the college student to a race swimming in the quarry and lost because he had hit his head on a rock. During the race at the university, Dave becomes hurt.
This scene shows how Dave and his friends try to overcome the stereotypes about them. They release the negativity that they feel about themselves and exert all their energy in proving the university students wrong. This is where they break away from their underdog self-images. All four friends realize that they can accomplish what they put their minds to.
With this in mind, Dave enrolls in college. He now sees that he can achieve what he sets his mind to. Dave is no longer ashamed of his cutter heritage; he now fully embraces his origins along with his parents as it is proven when the audience sees that the name of the used car dealership is changed to Cutter's Cars. Breaking away from the norm of not attending college among the four friends, was not that easy. Dave, Mike, Moocher, and Cyril were wasting away their lives together, discouraging each other from moving up in the world. I think that the friends were scared to grow up for the fear of failure and no success was ingrained in their minds.
However, the victory of the Cutter team was an important victory for all four. They realized that they are no different from the university students - they can achieve success just as the university students could.