Example of rebel without a cause as an immortal teenage role model movie review

There is no movie with a greater effect than one in possession of a rebellious teenager for a protagonist, who finds himself at odds with his peers at a new school, who meets a girl, stands up for what he believes is right, even though it may be in conflict with what society perceives as right, thus disobeying not only his parents but the law as well, all in an attempt to make a potent social commentary about the American youth. Such a movie is Rebel Without a Cause. The film’s enormous success has not only its story, but also its stars to thank for: heartthrob James Dean as the defiant youth Jim Stark, the ever-beautiful Natalie Wood as Judy, the girl who wins his heart, Correy Allen as his slick-haired nemesis Buzz Gunderson, and Sal Mineo as Jim’s only friend Plato, who is as deprived of understanding as Jim himself. It is a story as old as the time, of the gap that exists among generations in families, of the youth rebelling against mainstream society, and it is no wonder that this reckless and wild protagonist will become the mythical idol of thousands of teenagers to follow, in an effort to gain understanding, sympathy and love.
The narrative of the movie is simple enough. A 17-year old boy, named Jim Stark has just moved with his family into a new town, and right from the very start, he ends up at the police station for public drunkenness. He is offered kind words from the Juvenile Officer, as for the time being, he appears to be the only one who understands the difficulties Jim is going through. Next day in school, while trying to gain acceptance of his peers, one group in particular, he ends up achieving the opposite, and is challenged to a dangerous game, called Chickie Run. Not wanting to be considered a chicken, Jim accepts. The outcome of the game is the tragic and accidental death of Buzz, and consequently, his friends hunt down Jim, who hides in an abandoned mansion with Judy and Plato, who gets upset at the fact that Jim and Judy left him to be alone, and after shooting one of Buzz’s friends, he runs to the Observatory, where it all started. In conclusion, this entire 24-hour chaos of events ends with the death of Plato and Jim’s weeping for him, though not without a positive outcome, because Jim’s father finally acknowledges what his son needs him to be and makes a solemn promise to try his best.
The theme of the movie is teenage angst every young person can identify with, whether it is connected with their parents’ inability to understand them, with girls preferring jocks to boys who will treat them right, or knowing what is wrong with society which is corrupt and unfair, yet not having anyone to listen to their voice. Thus, Jim, like so many dissatisfied youngsters out there, wishing for just one day when he was not confused and ashamed of everything, acts out, being drunk in public and not caring whether he gets arrested or not, he gets involved in a knife fight, takes part in a dangerous game that will result in the death of his rival, and finally, confronts his disappointed friend wielding a gun. This all definitely sounds like something a rebellious teenager would get involved in. It is exactly because the events in the movie are so realistic and portrayed in such a matter-of-fact manner, that it is almost effortless for generations of subsequent teenage movie watchers to identify with this mutinous youth. Claudia Springer claims that the image of this “ angry, alienated teen rebel” has been “ one of the legacies of American films of the fifties,” and that “ over the decades that followed, [this] rebel figure permeated the globe, [with] its charismatic presence still felt in the twenty-first century” (1). Thus, as a remnant of a by-gone era, the rebel image is still as potent and still as influential as it was sixty years ago. It is this never-ending capability of the movie to appeal to youngsters of the 60s and the 70s, as well as those of the beginning of the twenty-first century, that makes this movie a true classic.
Naturally, the character that exposes himself and reigns the big screen is the character of Jim Stark himself. No teenager can remain silent to accusations of being a chicken, and neither can Jim. He is a typical teenager not only in the way he behaves with authority, such as parents and police, but also in his mannerisms. In one of the most unforgettable scenes from the movie, the Chickie Run which is seen as a “ form of virility-proving combat,” Jim is seen “ behind the wheel of his car a cigarette dangling confidently from the side of his mouth,” while his competitor Buzz is shown “ in his own car, self-assuredly slicking down his hair” (Danesi 24). This memorable scene shows the amount of power that James Dean exhibits as an alienated and restless rebel, and it is through the images of these two rivals, Jim and Buzz, that “ the primary symbolic props in that memorable depiction of teen sexual and virility rituals” are depicted: cars, slick hair and smoking (Danesi 24). Accordingly, Dean’s performance is impeccable. He portrays the teenage angst and sexuality with ease, and is more than willing to disturb the collective sterilized and idealized perception of 1950s America, with his dramatic depiction of a teenager trapped in a world that does not understand him.
In addition to him having a car and smoking, his clothes were also very carefully chosen, to exemplify his rebel persona. Throughout most of the movie, Dean is seen wearing his iconic red jacket, which symbolizes “ the fusion of his existential anguish and sexual urges of the younger generation” (Pramaggiore and Wallis 84). Judy mirrors this image, as her coat and lipstick are also of bright red color, oozing passion sensuality. In addition to the characters, the red color appears in the simulated explosion of the galaxy at the Observatory, where Jim’s whirlwind of a day commences. Consequently, all of these amplifiers aid in the audience’s perception of Jim as a rebellious teen, but it is almost unnecessary, as Dean plunges deep into the depths of himself to extract this behavior and present it to his audience. It is this realism, this true portrayal of a rebellious spirit that has transformed him into a mythical icon of defiant youth.
Springer claims that the movie “ places blame for teenage waywardness on absent parents and aggressive wives who usurp their husbands’ authority, in melodramatic fashion attributing personal failings to familial dysfunction” (28). Thus, in accordance with this statement, one of the audience’s least favorite characters would definitely be the usurping mother, played by Ann Doran. She appears to be in a perpetual state of tension and anxiety, waiting for her son’s next wrong move so that she can nag him, like she does his father, whom she married out of anything but true love. She is additionally disturbed by the presence of her husband’s mother, who obviously has not accepted her as the proper choice for her son. Taking all of this into account, she is a woman profoundly dissatisfied with life, and who eagerly awaits any opportunity to take out this frustration on her husband and son.
What Jim cannot adjust himself to is the lowly position his father has in their household, which is manifest in the scene when Jim returns home and finds his father wearing an apron, cleaning up a mess of broken plates before his wife notices it. He desperately wants his father to stand up to his mother for himself, for his son, but his father cannot do it. Jim longs for proper guidance and is on a psychological quest to find a father figure that he so frantically needs. Consequently, only when his father thinks he witnesses Jim’s murder at the end of the movie, due to the fact that at the time of his death, Plato is wearing Jim’s red jacket, can he finally put his arms around his son and be the kind of father Jim needs.
The fact that Jim cannot stand his mother’s incessant nagging and interference into the proper manner a household is supposed to be run, is evident in the fact that he does not let anyone call him a chicken. Being called a chicken can be perceived as a reference to a hen-pecked husband, a lowly worm who has absolutely no authority in his own house, which is exactly the image that Jim has of his father. He admits to the Juvenile Officer that his mother eats his father up alive and that perhaps, if his father would resort to some physical violence, as he refers to it knocking her cold once, maybe she would be happy and as a consequence, maybe they would all be happy. There is obviously an innate need in Jim for parental authority and he desperately wants his father to exert it. However, his father is incapable of doing this, lacking power, until the moment he thinks that his son is dead. Once he is faced with such a possible inevitable loss, he changes his perspective of the world and promises to be a true, fatherly role model to Jim.
Rebel Without a Cause is still as potent and has as much to say as it did back during the 1950s. The image of Jim Stark will never grow out of fashion, it will remain the idol of rebellious youth, who even when he wants to do right, is dealt the wrong cards and must act as best as he can. Despite all the bad choices in his life, Jim is not a bad person, and his reckless delinquencies are not the result of a criminal in the making. They are merely a cry for help, the need for sympathy and understanding from a suffering teenager, lost in a world everyone else blindly idolizes, except for him.

Works Cited:

Danesi, Marcel. Popular Culture: Introductory Perspectives. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008. Print.
Pramaggiore, Maria, and Tom Wallis. Film: A Critical Introduction. London: Laurence King Publishing, 2005. Print.
Springer, Claudia. James Dean Transfigured: The Many Faces of Rebel Iconography. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007. Print.