Movie Review: Rebel Without a Cause (VHS/DVD)
Originally released in 1955, Rebel Without a Cause tells the story of teenager Jim Stark (played by James Dean), the new kid in the suburbs with a rebellious and tough exterior. Most of the other kids his age also have this exterior because they blow off steam by joking around, having knife fights, or participating in drag racing. Jim Starks, Plato (played by Sal Mineo), and Judy (played by Natalie Wood), get hauled into the police station one night for different reasons. Soon, they are pulled together by a night of fun gone wrong and the hidden angst they all share.
One of the things that make the movie memorable is its realism, which is found in the characters, plot, and story world. Jim Starks, Plato, and Judy have a hole inside of them that is caused by dysfunctional families. Their parents are either not around or scared and confused about how to raise their children well.
Another notable thing about the film is its brilliant coherence. From the moment James Dean yells, “You’re tearing me apart!” I was shocked and intrigued. The reason for this is the anguish in that yell made me concerned for Jim Stark, yet I also began to feel that there was something significant that was going to happen and that Jim Stark was an important character. This would not have been possible if it weren’t for James Dean’s acting.
Besides James Dean’s acting, the use of the POV shot also creates coherence. For the most part, the POV shot is used on Jim Starks. A significant scene where this is used is the beginning titles, where James Dean is lying on the street drunk. The way the camera is positioned, it seems like you are kneeling down looking Dean directly in the face. If you are enjoying Dean’s character this soon, then you can even imagine yourself lying in the street across from him. Either way, the POV camera is a great way to get into the film.
In addition to the film’s coherence, the moral of the film is worth learning. In the film, Jim says something along the lines of, “You shouldn’t have to pretend you’re tough when you look like one thing and you feel like another.” Whether in the past or present, all teens feel this way at some point in their lives. Some adults are too quick to judge teens for their actions, behavior, or appearance. Some teens treat each other this way as well. All this does is reinforce the need to put on a facade, because that way you don’t get hurt and you won’t feel like no one understands you. It is this attitude that the film portrays in the plot and characters.
Although the moral is important, the most powerful aspect of the film is its complexity. The things that create the complexity are the motifs in the film. These motifs symbolize the themes of the film, which include family, loneliness, and identity. The latter theme has the most prominent motif, because the main characters are teenagers. While the motifs aren’t easy to pinpoint right away, some of the characters’ lines link to the symbols throughout the film. The most thought-provoking example is when Jim says, “Today’s going to be a great day, so you better live it up, because tomorrow you’ll be nothing.”
As a whole, Rebel Without a Cause is one of the most original teen films ever made. It became a phenomenon when first came out and is still one today, because it provides an authentic voice for teenagers. I recommend this movie to anyone who is around teens, anyone who has been a teen, and any teen who has felt they are without a cause.