The Lone Ranger rides a trusty horse. James Bond rides a high-tech car. Max Fischer rides a beat up bike.
In each case, the mode of transport, one’s steed, speaks reels about the rider. It expresses something about his character, modus operandi and purpose.
For Max, the protagonist of Rushmore, the fact that he rides a bike says he’s resourceful and resolute, in a hurry and independent. OK, quirky, too. Max is a flawed hero, but the bike suits – and serves – him well. It helps him take on, even dominate, his world; Rushmore Academy, a tony prep school where Max overstays his welcome.
Max tries to make up for being a poor student by passionately embracing extracurricular activities, from fencing to founding the Max Fischer Players. Ridiculously busy, he depends on his bike to zip around from one activity to another.
When his rival wants to hurt Max he destroys Max’s bike. In the next scene, however, Max bounces back, riding another bike that he seems to have acquired effortlessly, just as he does with everything else he wants. Well, almost everything. The manipulative Max goes too far when he pursues an adult teacher twice his age. Is the lying, hustling, egotistical Max clever or just disturbed? Such questions make this multifaceted film challenging and engaging, at least for those who aren’t put off by the antics.
While the bike-riding Pee-wee Herman in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure is a man with a kid’s mentality, Max is the opposite – a precocious 15-year-old boy with a man’s frame of mind. The latter characterization is more appealing and meaningful to bike aficionados, in part because it elevates the bicycle rather than infantilizes it.