Brick, an alcoholic ex-football player, drinks his days away and resists the affections of his wife, Maggie. His reunion with his father, Big Daddy, who is dying of cancer, jogs a host of memories and revelations for both father and son.
Jim Stark is the new kid in town. He has been in trouble elsewhere; that's why his family has had to move before. Here he hopes to find the love he doesn't get from his middle-class family. Though he finds some of this in his relation with Judy, and a form of it in both Plato's adulation and Ray's real concern for him, Jim must still prove himself to his peers in switchblade knife fights and "chickie" games in which cars race toward a seaside cliff. Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Nicholas Ray may be the most distinctive American director of the 1950s, and certainly the most deeply romantic. His career was marked by indiosyncratic stories about characters driven by deep internal conflicts, inward violence and outward sexual confusion. Rebel Without A Cause is the film where all of his themes meet, and slightly edges out Johnny Guitar and In A Lonely Place as my favorite Ray film.
Some people will certainly find the dialogue here to be rather stilted, and the performances melodramatic. I won't argue. Ray's films in general opposed 'realism' (that most unreal of artistic concepts) in favor of the mythic.
What's particularly satisfying about the film is its cohesiveness, binding together its many disparate events and characters with highly parallel themes and motifs. All of its central characters seem caught in psychosexual conflicts rife with familial gender conflict. Jim (James Dean) is caught between a weakling, effeminated father and a domineering but inneffectual mother. Judy (Natalie Wood) and her father are seperated by his uncomfortable relation to her sexuality. Plato (Sal Mineo), worst of all, is a practical orphan, who suffers all the more for his just under the surface homosexuality. (It's interesting to note here that Plato may be Hollywood's first sympathetic of a gay character.) All of them are driven by internal demons springing from these conflicts.
As usual, Ray is a remarkably sensitive photographer. And here he proves himself a master of color. There are too many beautiful scenes to mention here, but the planetarium scene (with the recorded voiceover about human loneliness) beginning of the 'chickie run' are both stunning.
The film seems divided between claustrophobic nightmares and utopian fantasies. The skewed camera angles of Jim's scenes with his parents contrast with the heavenly dream of teenage paradise in the abandoned house. The staircase motif seems to mark several of these transitions.
In any case, this is a stunning film by a consummate artist, and should certainly be viewed apart from the distorting lens of the James Dean myth. Dean, for his part, is remarkable here, although, as I stated above, the performances here are in a style far removed from what today's audiences are accustomed to.
It's quite silly to say, as several people have here, that this film's themes are 'dated'. They seem to be the constant themes of youth: idealism vs. cynicism, the turmoil of sexual awakening, the desire to fit in, and the internal violence that constantly threatens to become external. To say that these no longer apply because these kids have never heard of ecstasy or the crips is like saying that "Hamlet" no longer rings true because nobody swordfights anymore.
My one complaint about this film is with the title. Certainly quite dramatic, it sounds more like a marketing tagline than any kind of description of the goings on of this film. Jim seems less like a rebel than a young man caught in an inescapable turmoil, and his reaction to the final tragedy belies his lack of a cause. But this is a minor complaint, and I can recommend this film without reservation.
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